Senns of Our Fathers


“I feel like I’m almost in a general election here,”...

says Rep. Matt Leber of his fight to take incumbent Senator Sandy Senn’s District 41 seat. “This is a progressive Democrat that I’m running against, so these tactics are not unexpected.” 

“Tactics” refers to a laundry list of allegations, arrests, and bankruptcy filings that Senn’s campaign published at WhoIsMattLeber.com with an accusation that the District 116 lawmaker is “Criminal. Dangerous. Unfit to Serve.”

Senn hired a private investigator to research Leber’s history before he moved to South Carolina. The site includes paperwork substantiating Leber’s two bankruptcy filings, an arrest following accusations of assault by his ex-wife, and another arrest over an issue with a tenant at a rental house he owns in Savannah. Senn also calls attention to a 2014 Breitbart story where Leber is cited as a spokesman for the Three Percenters, a loosely organized paramilitary ideology that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a vanguard extremist movement that claims to be ready to carry out armed resistance to perceived tyranny.” 

Most alarmingly, the site includes a video of the daughter of Leber’s ex-wife—who he legally adopted as a child—claiming that her adopted father encouraged her to seek an abortion when she was 17. 

“They tried to Herschel Walker me,” says Leber, referring to the football star and former senate candidate from Georgia who wrote a check to a girlfriend that was used to pay for an abortion. 

Photo: Matt Leber. Courtesy: Rep. Matt Leber on Facebook

Referring to his ex-wife and adopted daughter, Leber says, “These folks up there, they’re not necessarily really sophisticated. They live in the western part of Virginia. Sandy Senn runs up there with her detective, puts a camera in their face and a microphone, and probably coaches them on what to say. It’s really not fair to these people.” 

"There’s no evidence of this because it didn’t happen. It’s really despicable that she would delve into my family to this level, ex-in laws and two states over from here, 15 years ago,” Leber continues. “She’s got to go this negative and dirty because that’s all she has.” 

Courtesy: whoismattleber.com
Courtesy: whoismattleber.com

Senn’s site claims that “Matt Leber attacked Senator Sandy Senn first.” That references Senn’s vote against House Bill 3774, a near-total abortion ban, in May 2023. The state’s five female senators, including two other Republicans, joined together in opposition. These “Sister Senators” were awarded the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, given that their actions nearly guaranteed a primary challenge from the far right like the one Senn now faces. 

Senn supports an abortion ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

“A lot of people have no idea that they’re pregnant at six weeks,” Senn explains. “A lot of my Democratic sisters would have liked it to be further, maybe a 22-week maximum. But I think we all believe that we cannot judge every situation that a female might find herself in, and we certainly felt like we were in a better position to know what’s right than a lot of our male colleagues.”

Contrast that with Leber, who in January 2023 cosponsored a bill that could have applied the death penalty to mothers who undergo abortions. (Amidst backlash, he withdrew his support of the bill in mid-March of last year, clarifying that he doesn’t think women should be prosecuted for having an abortion). Outside of the conversations over character and background, abortion has become the top issue of a Republican primary, ultimately over a discrepancy about banning it at six weeks or twelve, and whether the latter makes Senn a “progressive.”

Old Senns, Long Shadows

During her eight years in the senate, Senn cites her position as chair of Charleston’s County Intergovernmental Flooding Task Force and her work with first responder initiatives among her accomplishments.

“I am constantly called to work with DOT and the other public works agencies to fix roadways and bridges on an emergent basis…and long-term solutions as well,” she added over email, noting how relationships from her legal career help connect agencies and avoid project delays. “Together, things get done faster and better.”

In his two years in Columbia, Leber says he’s been fortunate that his ideals have mostly aligned with the house’s conservative supermajority. Among his personal accomplishments, he notes forcing the removal of signs disallowing concealed firearms in Charleston’s county parks. But he says he’s frustrated by conservative bills that pass from the house to the senate only to die, and he’s willing to risk losing his current seat to run for the senate.

“If I’m a slave to anything, it’s duty, and duty called,” says Leber, a combat veteran and former paratrooper who received the Army Commendation Medal for his service in Bosnia and Germany. “If I am able to defeat her, it’s going to be a great service to South Carolina, especially the conservative agenda.”

Over 8 years, we’ve seen that Senn is one of the last office-holding Republicans willing to compromise with Democrats to draft new legislation, mirroring the struggle in Washington between traditional conservatives and hard-liner, far-right politicians aligned with Donald Trump. But in a primary that likely wouldn’t have been contested without Senn’s vote against in bill 3774 last year, “who is Matt Leber?” is a logical question for voters, whether or not Senn’s site accurately tells that story.

At his own campaign site, LeberForSenate.com, Leber offers explanations and backstories for many of the legal documents Senn produced, including detailed explanations for his arrests. But his primary message is that he’s now served for two years in Columbia and sees the attention on his past as a distraction. 

“She found out that I once cussed on Sunday and that my ex-wife doesn’t like me,” says Leber. “If you want to spend your time reading…about the trouble that she created for me in the divorce proceedings, Sandy’s got a website for you.”

Whether or not he did brandish a gun during heated arguments with his wife or in front of his adopted daughter, Leber makes it very clear that he’s a strong advocate for gun ownership. He points out that several Democrats in the state house have a higher rating from the NRA than Senn’s 17. 

Asked about his bankruptcies, Leber claims the second one was dismissed and states that he can’t remember if his ex-wife filed that paperwork. He shifts the conversation to his back surgery at the time (2012), when he spent a year re-learning to walk. The lack of income and health challenges made it a “tough patch” and led to his divorce.

“She just really couldn’t handle it,” says Leber, who grew up in Washington, North Carolina, and lived in Pilot Mountain, NC, at the time. 

Soon after recovering from surgery, he remarried and moved to South Carolina, where he’s lived for the last decade, managing the couple’s rental homes across the Lowcountry. He says his new home is “not much different than the Pamlico Sound” area where he grew up. Before running for office, his voice in politics coincided with Trump’s rise to power. A February 2016 video posted by the Three Percenters account “American Patriot III” shows an animated Leber yelling after being removed from a Hillary Clinton rally in Charleston. Several tweets from his @voteleber and @MatthewLeber2 accounts also speak to his mindset before holding office:

  • “Fat shaming is healthcare” (February 14, 2020)
  • “Blacks commit 53% of all murders” (July 5, 2020)
  • “I think political combat is what makes us American. I despise very few things more than a moderate.” (August 6, 2020).

In a March 2020 Twitter exchange, as Covid restrictions first appeared, Leber wrote, “There are advantages to living in more rural areas. I got no body (sic) but the “help” on my plantation.” When the other user stated, “you’ve already implied you voted for Trump,” Leber replied, “Did I? No he’s too moderate for me.” 

Despite that—and his position as the state campaign chairman for Vivek Ramaswamy’s 2024 presidential campaign in South Carolina, Leber claims he voted for Trump twice in general elections and will do so again.

Making Senns of It All

The victor of June’s primary won’t face a viable Democratic challenger in November. Leber’s assertion about the primary as general election is correct. The question is whether Republicans will opt for an incumbent with traditional Republican views or a challenger eager to push the state further toward the right and thus, polarization. And, whether Democrats and independents are willing to jump into a fight to back an incumbent whose views don’t align with their own but are less extreme than the alternative.

“She is not a Republican—she’s sort of a Liz Cheney type,” claims Leber of Senn. “If voters want that, then they have that option.” 

Leber says he’s received texts and mail from people wanting to share information about Senn, but that he’s “got enough ammo” drawing attention to Senn’s voting record.

Senn says she has even more videos and information to share on Leber, if the need arises. 

“When you put yourself out for public office, you should anticipate being strictly scrutinized,” says Senn. “Quite frankly, I can’t imagine how this guy ever ran for public office.” 

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