“He doesn’t have to win on immigration. His larger profile is on national security and that’s not going to change,” said Charleston-based Republican strategist Jim Dyke. “He can do what he needs to do on immigration as long as keeps after President Obama.”…

Such attacks are welcomed by conservatives in South Carolina, where the latest Winthrop Poll found more people disapprove (47 percent) than approve (43 percent) of the president. Graham is also receiving some political cover from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the most popular Republicans in the country, who is leading the pro-reform campaign in the media. “Sen. Rubio is so well-regarded and so convincing on television, I think that will mitigate the fallout,” said Karen Floyd, former chairwoman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Evangelicals, who made up 40 percent of the South Carolina vote when Graham was re-elected in 2008, are increasingly speaking in favor of allowing illegal immigrants to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

Recent focus groups of Republican primary voters in Greenville, S.C., and Des Moines, Iowa also suggest waning resistance to immigration reform – if the bill’s complex provisions are explained. Republican pollster John McLaughlin, who led the groups of self-identified conservatives, said there was overwhelming support for tightening border security and withholding public assistance from illegal immigrants, which the bill requires. Participants were unfamiliar with the bill’s “pathway to citizenship” — the process of paying taxes and fines, learning English and passing a background check before obtaining a green card.