SPARTANBURG, South Carolina – South Carolina Tea Party activists sent a message to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) here on Monday: He’s in trouble.
While Graham has $6 million in his campaign war chest and and will wage an aggressive campaign against Tea Party candidates to win re-election, hundreds of conservatives rallied in Spartanburg at an event with all three current candidates against Graham in the upcoming Republican primary in 2014. Graham politically has the upper edge, as incumbents usually do, but the momentum appears to be shifting in favor of the grassroots conservatives, at least for now.
The event, a classic car contest and candidate forum held at the Beacon Drive-In restaurant in Spartanburg, drew hundreds of attendees, all three candidates against Graham, and Tea Party activists from across the region. Dozens of vintage cars lined the parking lot, and so many people showed up that organizers had to open up another section for overflow of cars that came to compete.
“We have an incredibly difficult and challenging task, but believe we’re going to be successful,” national Tea Party activist Dustin Stockton, who organized the event through his group Western Representation PAC, said during a speech at the rally. “We have a core group of people in the United States Senate, guys like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul. We’re starting to move legislation and I believe we’re going to affect real positive change in this country.”
Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of Charleston’s military college The Citadel, State Sen. Lee Bright and businessman Richard Cash, who beat Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) in a primary in 2010 but lost to Duncan in the runoff, each attended, mingled with voters and spoke at the “Cruise-In.” The event was intended to rally conservative activists for the upcoming fight to defeat Graham.
“Time and time again, when we go to Washington, we keep running into a little cabal of establishment guys who thwart our efforts to make positive changes, and that little cabal is led by your own senator, Lindsey Graham,” Stockton told the crowd of about 250 conservative activists.
Kenny Church, one of the owners and managers of the Beacon, told Breitbart News on site that his and his partners’ establishment is “open for all political events.”
“The Beacon is sort of a melting pot for people in Spartanburg County, so candidates from both parties come here and they hold their monthly meetings here sometimes, so both parties visit the Beacon quite a bit and even the candidates will come here quite a bit when they’re running just to meet the public,” Church said in an interview outside the restaurant. “It’s sort of an open forum and it gives people in the county an opportunity to come and hear each person and their ideas and what they believe and why, compared to the other person, they feel they can do a better job.”
The Beacon is a regular political stop for Graham, too, though he was in Washington, D.C., meeting with President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Monday to discuss possible US military action in Syria. “Lindsey’s been here quite a bit,” Church said. “We’ve owned the Beacon for 15 years and I would say he’s been here over 15 times.”
Bruce Carroll, the chairman of Carolina Conservatives United, told Breitbart News on scene that this event could be seen as a message to Graham that his job in the U.S. Senate is not secure. “I think what we saw today was there is definitely a grassroots movement, not just here,” Carroll said on the large front porch of the Beacon, which is lined with chairs and tables with umbrellas. “It’s all over the state. People are very upset with Lindsey Graham and there is a spark plug ready to get rid of him. So, hopefully it will start here.”
Carroll added that the prospects of taking Graham out are “real good, actually.”
“He has to achieve 50 percent in the June primary to prevent a runoff and I think that there’s a good chance that we can hold him below 50 percent,” Carroll said. Carroll said that “absolutely” the same electoral model conservatives seeking to ouster Graham the one that allowed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to beat establishment candidate David Dewhurst in Texas last year: get to the runoff by dragging the establishment candidate under 50 percent, then the activists rally behind a single Tea Party candidate to beat Graham a few weeks later.
(Graham challengers Richard Cash, Nancy Mace and Sen. Lee Bright discuss the upcoming primary campaign.)
Several photos of the event are available here. More to come on this story.