Lining up against Graham
On a Monday night in late August, Sen. Lindsey Graham was traveling with a congressional delegation in Africa when the three Republicans who are challenging him in the 2014 GOP primary joined a large and strongly conservative crowd at Rep. Jeff Duncan's annual Faith and Freedom Barbecue. To listen to Graham's opponents tell it, that situation — a lawmaker who is far away and out-of-touch — is emblematic of the senator's relationship with his constituents.
“The people in South Carolina are very conservative, and he's been working with Obama and acting as if he's the Secretary of State, when he should be representing the people of South Carolina,” said one of the challengers, Lee Bright, a state senator from the Greenville/Spartanburg area.
“He just doesn't represent South Carolina very well,” said challenger Richard Cash, a businessman who nearly won a House seat in 2010. “He voted for Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor ... and then he did the same thing with Justice (Elena) Kagan. We don't like his leadership on immigration — we believe it's another Grahamnesty. He's not just on the wrong side of the issue; he's a leader on the wrong side.”
“I see conservatives in Washington who stood up for the Constitution, who stood for border security, who stood against amnesty, who have stood up against reckless spending and the bailouts, who have stood against liberal Supreme Court justices — and almost always you can find Sen. Graham on the other side,” said challenger Nancy Mace, a Charleston PR executive best known for being the first woman to graduate from the Citadel.
There's no doubt Graham is vulnerable in 2014. Immigration reform, two Supreme Court votes, a perceived closeness to Barack Obama and a flirtation with liberal initiatives like cap and trade: None of that sits well with the state party's most loyal conservative voters.
One new factor is conservative hero Jim DeMint's decision to leave his Senate seat to head The Heritage Foundation.
“I think the standard of Jim DeMint has whetted (Republican voters') appetite to have a senator who is more what they want,” says David Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist who runs the respected Palmetto Poll. “Tim Scott (DeMint's replacement) is fine, but he hasn't been there long enough. Lindsey has been there 20 years, and people are starting to think he's never going to change.”
At the barbecue, a crowd of about 900 paid $35 each for dinner and a chance to hear Duncan and the evening's big guest, Sen. Rand Paul. Speaking to reporters before the event, Paul declined to endorse his colleague Graham, choosing to leave that to the voters of South Carolina.
Still, any big-foot challenger has time to consider the race; the candidate filing deadline is next spring. And the system provides for a runoff if Graham can't crack 50 percent of the primary vote.
“If he gets into a runoff, Graham will be in deep, deep trouble,” says a strategist.
Given that, it would not be surprising if some conservative group runs ads against Graham in coming months. The idea would not be to promote any other candidate, but to push down Graham's approval numbers and hopefully entice a big-name candidate into the race.
The bottom line is that the odds favor Graham. But if a few factors line up for his opponents, this might be his toughest race yet.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Malkin picture muddy
- NFL notebook: Raiders name Sparano interim coach
- Pirates notebook: Martin feels ‘pretty good,’ will start vs. Giants
- Steelers film session: Harrison on the field often
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin bringing officials to practice
- I-79 line painting begins Thursday
- Shareholders cheer eBay’s decision to spin off PayPal
- Virginia kicker says parents preached commitment
- Animal Friends receives $1.5 million state grant
- Public station WQED cutting staff in face of financial woes
- Pittsburgh rallies for second year of Pirates magic