Senator Lindsey Graham, who already has one announced challenger in the 2014 South Carolina Republican primary for the United States Senate in businessman Richard Cash, may soon face two more challengers.
Both State Senator Lee Bright and Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel, are preparing to enter the race soon, according to The Daily Beast.
Graham’s allies recently publicly stated they expect he will face multiple challengers. On July 23, former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson, who runs a Super PAC that supports Graham, the West Main Street Values Fund, told the Washington Examiner that Graham “will face a ‘spirited’ and ‘competitive’ primary challenge.”
Dawson, however, expects Graham to prevail. “Senator Graham has been one of the most successful politicians at the ballot box and has cut the hide of a South Florida alligator when it comes to campaigns and elections,” he said.
In addition to friendly Super PACs and a strong network of supporters in the South Carolina Republican establishment at the state and county levels, the Graham campaign has $6.3 million cash on hand. In contrast, Richard Cash, his only announced opponent, had only $248,396 in cash on hand as of June 30, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Tea Party groups across the state unanimously oppose Graham. They view him as a RINO who does not support the constitutionally limited government values of the movement. However, to date they have not coalesced around a single challenger.
Cash has courted the Tea Party movement but has yet to close the deal. On Thursday, he spoke to the Sumter Tea Party, where he received a pleasant reception, But Cash’s campaign theme of what he calls the three Cs–“capitalism, Christianity, and the Constitution”–has yet to generate the type of Tea Party enthusiasm he hoped to achieve.
State Senator Bright believes his record is more likely to appeal to the Tea Party. “My voting record in the state Senate is very similar to what Jim DeMint did in the U.S. Senate. It is more of a match with conservative values in South Carolina,” he said. Bright blasted Graham, who he said is not “in touch with the people of South Carolina. He is more enamored of the national media than he is doing what South Carolinians would like to see him do.”
Supporters of Ms. Mace, now the owner of a public relations firm, also hope to generate enthusiasm for her candidacy within the Tea Party. A Facebook page that hopes to draft her, Nancy Mace for U.S. Senate 2014, already has more than 2,000 “likes.” But Mace’s campaign may be hurt by her co-ownership of a website called FITSNews. According to The Daily Beast, Will Folks, who is the site’s other co-owner, “shook–or at least irritated–the political world in 2010 when he claimed that he had an affair with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.”
Graham’s unpopularity among the grassroots was highlighted last week when a new group, “Carolina Conservatives United,” launched a video and website, DefeatLindseyGraham.org, focused on encouraging opposition to Graham. Announcing the launch on July 12, Bruce Carroll, the group’s chairman, said, “As residents of South Carolina and grassroots activists in the conservative movement, we are concerned not only about Lindsey Graham’s voting record on important issues but also the contempt he regularly displays toward small-government conservative citizens.”
Carroll thinks other South Carolina Republicans serve the state better than Graham. “We never know which Lindsey Graham will show up in Washington each day. He’s more likely to side with liberal Senate Democrats on important votes than with Senator Tim Scott or the South Carolina Republican Congressional delegation,” he said.
Though dissatisfaction with Graham among the grassroots is high, past primary challenges to incumbent establishment Republicans in other states have succeeded only when activist support has coalesced around one strong challenger. That has not happened yet in South Carolina. The best those who oppose Graham can hope for at present is to keep him under 50% in the June 2014 primary and force a runoff.
That strategy worked for Ted Cruz in the 2012 Republican primary in Texas, where his second-place finish against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the May primary forced a July runoff between the two, which Cruz won handily.
The question South Carolina conservatives are asking themselves is whether one of the three announced or potential candidates–Cash, Bright, and Mace–will emerge as South Carolina’s version of Ted Cruz, or if that challenger has yet to arrive on the scene.