Momentum Building Against Lindsey Graham in SC GOP Primary

Momentum appears to be building in South Carolina against Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who faces three challengers in next year’s June primary.

On Monday evening, the Greenville County, SC GOP executive committee, an official arm of the state's Republican Party, passed a 29-point censure of Graham’s activities in Washington. “Initially a voice vote was taken and newly elected County Chair Chad Groover ruled that the nays won, at which point there were several calls for ‘division,’” The South Carolina Conservative’s Javan Browder wrote on Tuesday morning. “Groover recognized the call for division and a standing vote was taken, and the measure then passed by a convincing 53-26 margin.”

Greenville County’s GOP executive committee is now the third official Republican Party outfit in South Carolina to pass such a resolution. It joins Chesterfield County and Fairfield County, who passed similar resolutions in September.

Polling data from Clemson University released in late September shows South Carolina GOP voters increasingly disapprove of Graham. “Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has a strong backing for reelection next year among GOP voters, while U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will need to convince people in his party to give him another term, according to a new Clemson University poll,” Andrew Shain wrote for The State, a South Carolina newspaper, on Sept. 24.

“Graham, who is facing competition from the libertarian wing of the party in the June primary, was liked by 53 percent of those polled,” Shain added. “More than one-third of GOP voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Seneca Republican.”

Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodward suggests that Graham could be unseated by one of his three primary challengers: State Sen. Lee Bright, businesswoman Nancy Mace, or pro-life activist Richard Cash. “Republican primaries regularly attract about 20 percent of the registered voters, and they are more conservative and more ideological than voters in the general election,” Woodard said. “It often happens that popular incumbents are derailed on the way to re-election by upstart challengers in GOP primaries.”

“Most incumbents have a ‘re-elect regardless’ number in the 30s, so the governor’s numbers are quite strong,” Woodard added. “That cannot be said about Graham, his numbers show that more than two-thirds of the base GOP voters are unhappy with him.”

Shain reports that the Clemson poll shows that while Graham would get 31 percent of the GOP vote in South Carolina’s GOP primary if the vote were held now, at least 20 percent of Republican voters said they oppose his re-election.

That polling data is an 11-point drop-off in support for Graham since a poll released earlier in September that showed Graham with 42 percent of GOP voters supporting him in the primary. When that poll was released, South Carolina political prognosticators warned Graham he was in trouble.

“These numbers should be of concern to the Graham campaign. The senator fails to reach 50% of the vote against any of his opponents,” Rosetta Stone Communications president John Garst said at the time. “Graham does not break 40% among voters who think of themselves as evangelistic conservatives, and that group makes up 58% of the primary electorate.”

Now, Graham is polling even lower among the state's GOP voters.

All this news comes as various local Tea Party activists are getting more involved in the Graham race. Kershaw County Patriots, a Tea Party group, endorsed Graham challenger Lee Bright on Monday. In a video they published announcing their endorsement of Bright, Kershaw County Patriots founders Jeff Mattox and Larry Risvold noted that they were “really instrumental in the groundwork of getting Mick Mulvaney elected and John Spratt out of office.”

“We had a lot of success with that,” Risvold says in the video. “We were in every county in the fifth district and actually developed a great relationship with all the other Tea Parties and conservative groups throughout the state.”

“I think every day during that election cycle we were out doing something somewhere to affect people, to bring people in, to tell them what was going on and to get them involved, and we did it by making things fun,” Mattox added. “We’re about liberty. We’re about individual liberty, the Constitution. And that’s why we got so excited about it because it’s time for us to [have] no more of these career politicians.”

The Kershaw County Patriots endorsement stated they “will not be deterred, will not be afraid, and will not fail,” and Bright said he “expects this to be the first of many Tea Party groups who will join us in our campaign.” He added that “when you look at my record, and my statements, it is easy to see that the Kershaw County Patriots and Lee Bright are on the same page. We are thrilled to get the first official Tea Party endorsement, and look forward to many more.”

South Carolina is technically a runoff state, so if the challengers work together to keep Graham under 50 percent, they can get to a runoff election with the candidate who comes in second challenging Graham. Conservatives point to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his election in Texas as an example of the model they plan to use to win. Cruz technically lost the primary to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment's pick for U.S. Senate, but he won in the ensuing runoff.


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