Columbia, S.C. –– Senator Lindsey Graham should have little trouble winning his reelection campaign in 2014. But a few vocal South Carolinians are working to make that process as unpleasant as possible for him. At today’s annual South Carolina Republican Party Convention, a group of boisterous detractors — largely from the northern part of the state — endeavored to take over the proceedings and set an agenda that would have made it slightly easier for them to push Graham out. It didn’t work, but it shows just how passionate anti–Lindsey Graham folks can be.
Here’s some backstory: Lindsey Graham is very popular in his home state. His approval ratings among South Carolina Republicans typically stay in the 60s and 70s, and he’s one of the most popular statewide elected officials. So he doesn’t have much to worry about. But the 30-odd percent of South Carolina Republicans who don’t approve of the job he’s doing, well, they really don’t approve. At the state convention in 2009, for instance, there was a big to-do over a resolution that’s introduced regularly to thank members of the state’s congressional delegation for their service. Someone motioned that Graham’s name be removed from the list of those thanked, and while the motion didn’t go through, it made for some general discomfort. This was just a few months after Graham won more than a million votes in his reelection bid and became the top-vote-getter in South Carolina history. That’s Graham’s situation; the people that don’t like him really, really, really don’t like him. There are typically a lot of those people at the state convention.
One of the tactics his opponents have tried to implement would change the state’s nomination process from a primary to a convention. Besides the potentially substantial implications for presidential politics, this might make it slightly less insurmountable for the anti-Graham contingent to get one of theirs in power. At the convention on Saturday, anti-Graham delegates tried to elect a different president of the convention and to allot more time for would-be party officials to give stump speeches. None of their efforts were successful, but it made for a chaotic few minutes, with delegates yelling and booing.
At one point, convention president Allen Clemmons had to bang his gavel and yell to bring the group back to order. “Ladies and gentlemen, we will have order!” he cried. “We are Republicans in this body! We will have order!”
After threats to eject hecklers, the crowd toned down a bit. And despite some creative parliamentary efforts, the anti-Graham folks’ efforts were thwarted. When party chair Chad Connelly introduced Graham, it was to a mixed chorus of applause and boos.
Those present who weren’t enamored with the state’s senator included Richard Cash, a homeschooling father of eight and Ron Paul supporter who is Graham’s only official primary challenger thus far. Cash’s campaign materials say he’s running for office because he believes in Christianity, capitalism, and the Constitution. A leaflet he handed out to attendees also quoted Psalms 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Cash told me that he wishes there were more political leaders as principled as Ron Paul.
State senator Lee Bright may challenge the senator as well. And Nancy Mace, a libertarian-leaning consultant who is the first female graduate of The Citadel, tells me she hasn’t ruled out a run.
None has particularly rosy prospects against Graham, but Mace’s situation is interesting. A South Carolina GOP insider says Senator Rand Paul came to South Carolina in February to attend one of Mallory Factor’s Charleston Meetings, which are modelled on Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meetings, and Mace attended the meeting as well. He says that she also went to a lunch roundtable with the senator, and that she’s been helping the Kentucky freshman test the waters for a 2016 bid. He adds that state senator Tom Davis and Representative Mick Mulvaney are among her clients.
Mace has two small children, and seems like an unlikely primary challenger. But if Elizabeth Colbert Busch wins Tuesday’s special election against Mark Sanford, some think Mace would be poised to challenge her in 2014.
One potential difficulty: Mace formerly worked with FITSNews, a South Carolina political site with a less-than-stellar reputation that ran stories alleging that Governor Nikki Haley had several affairs. Mace’s former proximity to the website could make it difficult for her to make allies in the governor’s mansion.
Regardless of how the Graham primary contest shakes out, it gives liberty-movement candidates a chance to build their name recognition and statewide networks. It also offers a chance to annoy their biggest nemesis, which could be good enough for them.