Karen Floyd, a former chairwoman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said Graham’s risky engagement on the topic reflects a gamble that will ultimately serve the party. And Graham has been clear in his belief that the GOP needs to court the fastest-growing group of voters—Latinos.

“He is looking at a bigger picture,” Floyd said. “The numbers are overwhelming, in terms of the demographic Latino not voting Republican because of the message that the Republican Party has developed and sent, and so consequently I think he sees this as an opportunity to embrace a demographic that is a really fast-growing population.”

Although the polling on immigration in South Carolina appears muddled, depending on how questions are framed, the state’s business community has supported reform this time around.

For all his work on immigration, Graham tries to keep his predominant image associated with security. He has played a leading role in questioning the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attack, arguing loudly for stepped-up involvement in Syria, and criticizing the administration’s handling of warnings from Russian authorities about the deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

Indeed, his criticism of the administration, which plays well with his base in a state where Obama is unpopular, has noticeably ratcheted up.