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Lindsey Graham Not As Vulnerable As Some Think

The two-term Senator has a number of significant facts working to his advantage.

The latest round of protests against Sen. Lindsey Graham reached a fever pitch when he slammed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster last Wednesday. Graham's criticism prompted a vocal group of conservatives inside and outside the Palmetto State to think the episode might finally be enough to bounce him from office.

But, the fact is Lindsey Graham will likely be re-elected in 2014 to a third term as the senior Senator from South Carolina.

Paul was holding up the nomination of John Brennan for CIA chief by protesting the Obama Administration’s policy on drones, a policy that Graham supports. The crux of Paul’s argument was based on the fear that Obama might have the power to use drones against American citizens on American soil. Attorney General Eric Holder told Paul that the President has no such authority, but Paul continued his filibuster anyway.

The issue here is not drones or whether Graham is right or wrong on any of the issues. It is the likelihood that this episode puts Graham’s re-election in doubt.

It doesn’t.

Critics to the right of Graham are not new. Tea Party types have been unhappy with him since word leaked in 2009 that he was working on climate change legislation with then-Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Graham’s willingness to avoid a sequester or the fiscal cliff or other financial doom by closing tax loopholes and means-testing for Social Security, hasn’t served him well with some members of his own party.

But loudness of dissent does not equal a loss in a primary.

Last month, Winthrop University published a poll that showed Graham with an approval/disapproval rating of 71.6/17.4 among Republicans. Among all voters it was 58.4/41.6. Those poll numbers came out after the Club For Growth named Graham its top target in 2014.

Even if those numbers have moved a few points against Graham they are still extremely strong. Incumbents with that kind of favorability simply don’t lose elections. The only way they do is if there is scandal. And scandals can happen. Just ask Robert Menendez in New Jersey, who was thought to be close to invulnerable. But counting on a scandal to unseat an incumbent is not much of a strategy.

And one other fact to keep in mind: no South Carolina Senator who served a full term has lost a re-election campaign since Coleman Bease in 1930.

Being the incumbent is not a small advantage, chiefly when it comes to raising money, something that Graham is very good at. Before he’s even officially declared that he’ll seek re-election Graham has at least $4.4 million in his campaign coffers.

But numbers next to dollar signs aren’t the only kind of figures that make Graham’s re-election likely. Polling data on the Tea Party is also overwhelmingly in Graham’s favor.

Among Republicans and right-leaning independents in South Carolina, the Tea Party has a 48 percent favorability rating, according to the aforementioned Winthrop poll. Tea Party members are those most likely to vote against Graham in a primary. Even if all the people sympathetic to the Tea Party voted in a bloc—a dicey proposition—that still doesn’t get a challenger to Graham over 50 percent.

But, let’s say Graham’s Republican opponents somehow did cobble together a coalition to knock him off in a primary, the person they nominate would then go into a general election with a serious mountain to climb. Consider, that in that same Winthrop poll, the Tea Party has a favorability rating among all South Carolina voters of 26.5/37.9.

For the GOP to nominate a Tea Party candidate would put the seat in peril. The Democratic Party would immediately deem the seat as “in play” and a flood of money would come into the state.

Leading Republicans have made it abundantly clear they are tired of losing seats that are winnable. Yes, the Tea Party has yielded Rand Paul, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, among others. But, those seats were reliably Republican anyway. Extreme right candidates like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin cost the party seats that were held by a Democrat in Nevada, Delaware, Indiana and Missouri, respectively.

The idea of a Democrat winning a Senate seat in South Carolina would send shivers up the spine of the national GOP, which would result in donations by the bucket load to Graham. It’s one thing to lose a winnable seat. It’s quite another to give away a seat you’ve held for decades.

Does this mean Graham can put it an auto-pilot?

No. But the most frequently named challengers--state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort or Lee Bright of Spartanburg—pose little threat.

Davis has almost no name recognition outside of the Lowcountry and Bright has very little outside of the Upstate. Furthermore, Davis told Patch he will serve out his term and not seek higher office. He could always change his mind.

Bright seems more certain to challenge Graham. Whether it’s him, Davis or some other member of the General Assembly, the barriers to victory will be substantial.

There are probably three people in the state of South Carolina who could beat Graham in a Republican primary—Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-4), Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-5) and former Gov. Mark Sanford, who is in the process of trying to win a House seat in District 1. The most likely of those to seriously consider a run against Graham is Mulvaney. To take on Graham would be a challenge to the status quo, something he has already shown a willingness to do. But it could make his House seat vulnerable. Prior to Mulvaney winning the District 5 seat in 2010, it was in Democratic hands for more than 125 years. Getting it back would not be an insurmountable task.

It's just another sign that points to a Graham victory in 2014 and in comfortable fashion.

Keep up with all of Patch's coverage of South Carolina politics by following us on Facebook HERE and Twitter HERE.

tim houghtaling June 02, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Part Two: Historical fact and statistical studies evidence 30-40% of the population looking for the escalator to citizenship ‘forgot to go home’ after arriving as passport carrying lawful non-immigrants. Surely the Senator read the 9/11 Commission report detailing terrorists preference of defrauding the non-immigrant visa provisions as a means of embedding themselves. Did he never watch “Taxi”? The DHS Office of Immigration Statistics yearbook reports some 53 million non-immigrant admissions for 2011, of which 1.4 million entered as ‘temporary’ workers. Canadians contributed 1.8 million visitors (896,435 came to work), 28,285 were “returned” (a full 8.7% of the whole) while 1,289 were “removed” (after a rough night on the beach?). South Carolina was the stated point of final destination of 109,604 documented non-immigrant visitors and workers in 2011 - 40% would be 43,841 new residents living illegally within our state for one year. That is a significant number needing removed - time for ICE and “interior enforcement” – something most legislators cannot conceptualize. Senator Graham provided more historically inaccurate distortions including…” if we can increase access to legal labors, employers won’t cheat”. (Check out the SAW amnesty that failed farmers) Mr. Graham provided the reason to grant ‘temporary legal status’ - (low wage?) immigrants are necessary to pay the tab for 80 million baby boomers going on Medicare.
tim houghtaling June 02, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Part Three: For a dozen years, I have mailed letters of concern that South Carolina needs more of a presence by ICE, especially after we ‘achieved’ designation as a national narcotics ‘trans-shipment point’. I have not received one meaningful response. I fear I now know the reason – the Senator’s United States is not the same one most of us inhabit. He is either living in a bubble or makes up fact as he goes. Perhaps that is contributory to the lawmaker’s decision to exclude input from DHS employee associations and unions – not to confuse the issue with fact. It is difficult for this constituent to trust an elected ‘representative’ who cannot or will not identify the ‘problem’, yet formulates law that will impact so many. I am frightened. Tim Houghtaling US I&NS Investigator OCDETF (ret) Lexington, South Carolina Lindsey Graham's interview http://www.wvoc.com/pages/Rush.html?article=11329828#article_comments http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2011/ois_yb_2011.pdf http://www.fairus.org/issue/how-did-illegal-aliens-arrive-without-inspection-or-with-visas http://www.cis.org/us_visas_still_easy_to_get.html
5 War Veteran June 02, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Well written Tim, Lindsay Graham works for himself and not the majority voter.
tim houghtaling June 02, 2013 at 07:16 PM
I just found this ... What S744 offers for the 'rule of law' and disorder ... Union review of enforcement 'provisions': http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/698783/law-enforcement-letter-on-immigration-bill.pdf
stanley seigler June 02, 2013 at 08:30 PM
RE: “This is a tale of two borders … How many Canadians are here illegally? so seems the policies should be the same for the two borders...any racism here...ohand didn't the 9/11 terrorists come in from the north...

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