There have been few targets among grassroots conservatives as large as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham over the past few years. His “compromise” votes on subjects ranging from Obama nominees to government shutdowns have had the base up in arms, frequently bringing up promises of retribution during the next election cycle. Well, that time has arrived, but the comeuppance still doesn’t seem to be developing. Oh, he has challengers to be sure… six of them in fact, just in the primary. And yet, he doesn’t look like a guy with a lot of worries. According to at least one report, he’s managing this feat through a combination of goodwill, shrewd politics and nearly $7 million.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney was thought to be a credible challenger in the June 10 primary, until Graham inspired House leaders to give Mulvaney a seat on the House Financial Services Committee. Mulvaney opted against challenging the two-term senator.
A hacking episode resulted in the theft of South Carolina taxpayers’ personal information and a public relations problem for Gov. Nikki Haley, also up for re-election this year. Graham advised her on the situation, and now she has better poll numbers than he does.
It also helped that two of the most promising contenders to unseat him from his own party found, er… better things to do.
State Sen. Tom Davis, an aide to former Gov. Mark Sanford, predicted before the Republican convention in 2012 that South Carolina voters would oust Graham. But Davis said he could do more for his libertarian-leaning causes in the state Senate, and that to run against Graham, he would need to raise a lot of money.
There was a movement to draft Mulvaney, but he demurred, saying he doesn’t enter races he can’t win.
The crowded field of more than a half dozen people seems to be working as something of a double edged sword, given the way the South Carolina primary process works. On the one hand, Graham needs to get more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff, which becomes incrementally more difficult as more contenders throw their hats in the ring. On the other, having such a low signal to noise ratio, it becomes harder for the contenders to break through. None of the challengers are registering at more than 10% in the latest polls. Of course, if one of them does wind up in a runoff with Graham, that will focus attention and possible support, but would it be enough to surge into the lead? And let’s not forget the $7M advantage. It’s given Graham the luxury of time and greasing some palms to keep himself in good favor with the folks who count.
Whenever he isn’t in Washington, Graham is campaigning.
The money the senator has amassed for his race means he can run ads almost daily, host free barbecues and ice cream socials and organize the more than 5,000 precinct captains that he claims into a massive get-out-the-vote effort.
Any battle to unseat Graham was always going to be a tough one and it would require some serious organizational skills – as well as cash – to pull it off. Whether any of this crop of contenders can muster that type of effort will be coming clear next month. The South Carolina Senate primary takes place on June 10th.