It’s becoming more and more clear that Senator Lindsey Graham is on shaky ground with the GOP electorate in SC. Multiple county GOP groups have recently passed censure measures against him, and by overwhelmingly large margins, with other counties soon to vote on similar censure measures.
A recent poll conducted by Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone Communications showed that Graham only reaches 42% of the vote against his field of primary challengers, and still falls short of 50% against any of them in a head to head matchup.
Adding to voter frustration over Graham, is his recent vote in favor of cloture on the Senate version of the Harry Reid amended CR bill which allowed full funding for Obamacare, something the House had stripped out in its version before sending it to the Senate. The cloture vote required at least 60 votes, so it could not pass without at least 6 republican votes, and once cloture was invoked it meant that the bill would be voted on as is with the Obamacare funding and only need 51 votes to pass. Many conservatives believe the process was a setup between the powers that be in both parties. That was the main purpose of Senator Ted Cruz’s 21 hour filibuster, to try and bring attention to the fix. Though Graham did vote against the actual bill, by voting for cloture, many conservatives feel that he cast a de-facto vote in favor of Obamacare funding.
To add to the dismay of conservatives, Graham, after having voted for cloture, circulated an email in which he boasted about having proudly voted against Obamacare funding. Many republicans through social media and the blogosphere pulled no punches and called Graham an outright liar over the issue.
Graham’s less than warm relationship with conservative republicans is something that goes back for quite a ways, but just now seems to be coming to a head leading up to the approaching 2014 GOP primary when Graham may face for the first time, a serious primary challenge.
So far the official field of candidates lined up to challenge Graham totals three: Lee Bright, Richard Cash, and Nancy Mace, with one other likely candidate yet to jump in. But who are they, and what realistic chances do any of them have at retiring Graham?
At this point in the race the frontrunner among the Graham challengers seems to be State Senator Lee Bright. Bright is known for taking a hard conservative line in the state Senate, and for sponsoring/co-sponsoring bills like the SC Open Carry law, and the Obamacare nullification bill (H.3101), both which failed to pass through the legislature earlier this year. But Bright may have some serious weaknesses among the state GOP electorate as a whole. In 2012, after Michele Bachmann dropped out of the presidential race, Bright officially endorsed Ron Paul, a move which many conservatives consider as placing Bright outside of the mainstream of GOP conservatives. Ron Paul only received about 10% of the vote statewide, including in Bright’s own district. Having painted himself as a staunch libertarian has certainly gained Bright strong support among the Ron Paul libertarian crowd, but as energetic as it is, it only consists of a fairly small percentage of the GOP electorate. The libertarian vote is also automatically “non-Graham”, so having it doesn’t allow a challenger to defeat Graham unless they can also pull off a large number of mainstream conservatives, as well as voters from Graham’s own base of support.
Richard Cash was the first Graham challenger to announce his candidacy. Known for his conservatism, Cash is a businessman who entered into politics in 2010 when he finished first place in the 3rd Congressional district GOP primary, later losing to Jeff Duncan 51-49% in the runoff. Cash has his base of support among religious conservatives and pro-life advocates, but he, like Bright, also has some electoral weaknesses. By all accounts Cash is a very nice guy and a true gentleman. But by many of the same accounts, his niceness may be one major thing which limits his electability in taking on a powerful incumbent US Senator. Some grassroots leaders and political pundits have said that Cash “lacks the fire in the belly to take on Graham and win.” Cash also has very limited name recognition statewide and has the disadvantage of never having held political office before, something that is hard to overcome when running for US Senate, especially against someone like Graham.
Nancy Mace is best known for completing what Shannon Faulkner failed to complete, by becoming the first female graduate of the Citadel. Other than that and some experience in business, Mace has little notable experience in political or public life. There does seem to be some initial excitement among voters who like the idea of having a young attractive woman in the race, but her support mostly seems to be coming from libertarians similar to those supporting Lee Bright. Like Bright, Mace also endorsed Ron Paul in 2012. It’s quite possible that Bright and Mace may cancel each other out based on a very split and fairly limited base of libertarian support. Mace, like Richard Cash, also has very low name recognition across the state. One of the main things driving the idea of a one on one runoff between Mace and Graham is that by having a woman against Graham, it would limit Graham’s ability to attack for fear of triggering the “Haley effect” among primary voters. In 2010 when allegations were made against then candidate Haley, instead of falling in the polls, her numbers went up exponentially and she won the primary by a large margin. But the irony behind that idea is that Mace is actually the long time partner with the infamous Will Folks, the very one who made the false sex allegations against Haley. Mace was the co-founder along with Folks of Fitsnews, (the blog which Folks used to promote his false allegations) which is often referred to as the “SC Enquirer.” Folks is still the driving force behind Fitsnews, but Mace sold her portion of ownership in the blog just in advance of entering the Senate race. Many conservatives feel that Mace’s close association with Folks and Fitnews will undercut her credibility as a serious US Senate candidate over the long run. Those factors, combined with the fact that she has neither held nor run for political office make her a long shot at best in a US Senate race against an incumbent.
Many conservative were hopeful that one of the Congressmen from SC, namely Trey Gowdy, Jeff Duncan, or Mick Mulvaney would jump into the race against Graham, but that seems very unlikely at this point.
But there may be a dark horse yet to emerge in this race, one that may be a game changer….
Bill Connor, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve (Airborne Ranger) and decorated combat veteran has said that he is “seriously considering” a run against Graham.
Connor became known across the state in 2010 after returning home from a tour in Afghanistan which he volunteered for. Connor ran for SC Lt. Governor and got into the runoff against the establishment candidate Ken Ard, who later resigned in shame after taking office and receiving probation for misuse of campaign funds.
Connor spoke at one of the first tea parties in the nation on the banks of the Reedy River in Greenville in early 2009, something he says fueled a fire in him and led him to get into in statewide politics and involvement with the tea party movement.
Additionally, Connor is an attorney and currently serves as the 6th district GOP Chair in SC. A graduate of The Citadel and the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Law, he also serves as Director of the Army’s Command and General Staff College (ILE) in S.C. During Connor’s tour in Afghanistan, he served as Senior US Advisor to Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star.
Connor is member of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team, and along with partner W. Thomas Smith Jr. founded National Defense Consultants LLC, a partnership providing clients with military analysis ranging from geostrategy to special operations; counterterrorism; ground, Naval, and air combat; military leadership and military law.
One of Lindsey Graham’s strong bases of support among GOP voters is with the military/veteran block. Graham serves as an Air Force Reserve JAG officer (Colonel), and is widely seen as an “expert” on foreign policy. So Connor may be uniquely able to take Graham on and undercut his main base of support, the military/veteran block, and give Graham serious trouble on foreign policy matters in debate, something the other candidates lack the credentials and experience to do. Connor has been very outspoken against Obama’s handling of the recent situation in Syria and has criticized Graham for supporting the policy. He warned that a strike on Syria might have the same unintended effect as the US policy for Egypt did when Mubarak was deposed and the Muslim Brotherhood took over in the power vacuum, something Connor also warned of at the time. Only this time with Syria, he warned that the “rebels” who would take over are largely controlled by Al Qaeda, and that becoming involved in what is essential a civil war would not serve the national interests of the US.
As any candidate, Connor would have his own challenges to overcome. Connor is not well liked among some in the GOP establishment because of his staunch conservatism and efforts to reform the party back to its platform. But Connor is well liked and respected among the grassroots across the state, and being the only candidate to have previously run a statewide race could give him the edge with name recognition and organization if he enters the race. Connor also garners a lot of support from the Christian conservative and pro-life portions of the GOP electorate, likely giving him the widest overall GOP voter appeal of any of the Graham challengers.
Two things in this race are certain: 1. Non-Graham sentiment continues to build. 2. Under any circumstances Graham will not be easy to defeat.
Graham already has a reported 6.5 million dollars to spend and that number will likely pass 10-12 million or more, plus his has the clear advantage of incumbency. That combined with that fact that 20-25% of all those who will vote in the GOP primary will be democrats due to state law which forces the parties to be open to any registered voter regardless of party affiliation, will make it very tough for a challenger to defeat Graham, but not impossible if enough support can be consolidated behind the strongest candidate.
With three and potentially four opposition candidates, causing a four or five way primary race, a runoff is almost a given. The key for defeating Graham will be to get the right candidate with the best chance of beating Graham into the runoff, and getting them into it with enough momentum to then take Graham down in what will surely be treated as a political fight to the death between the two.
SC GOP primary voters have a big choice in front of them between now and next June…
By: Javan Browder
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