A crowded primary field, with three candidates in the race so far, could help the veteran Republican senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
COLUMBIA, S.C. (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s maverick ways have already drawn him not one, not two, but three challengers in the 2014 Republican primary — a crowded field that could help the senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote.
The latest challenger, State Senator Lee Bright of Roebuck, valuted into the GOP primary on August 13 by calling Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood” — a rather opaque reference to Graham’s recent high-profile trip to Egypt with his close friend, Senator John McCain of Arizona.
McCain and Graham went to Egypt at the behest of President Barack Obama to meet with Egyptian officials after the miliatary’s recent overthrow of the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Also in the race is Nancy Mace, a Charleston businesswoman who has been having to answer questions about her role as part ownner of FITSNews, a irreverant Web site mixing South Carolina news with pop culture.
The site is run by Will Folks, who in 2010 claimed to have had an affair with Republican Governor Nikki Haley, which Haley vehemently denied.
Mace, who was the first female graduate of The Citadel, also claims Tea Party support, including a recent endorsement by the Tea Party Leadership Fund, a national group.
The third candidate in the race — so far — is Richard Cash, from Anderson County, an evangelical Christian missionary who owns a used car business and a fleet of ice cream trucks. On his Web site, he says “the origins and foundation of American greatness lies in Christianity, Capitalism, and the Constitution.”
Cash ran for the 3rd District U.S. House seat in 2010, winning the first round of the primary before losing the runoff to the eventual winner, Rep. Jeff Duncan.
Graham, 58, who is seeking this third term in the Senate, has run afoul of some Tea Party groups for his efforts to reach bi-partisan compromises with Democrats, most recently for his support of an immigration reform bill that was opposed by most Republican senators.
His close political and personal friendship with McCain has also drawn fire, particularly over their blistering criticism of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for his filibuster over Obama’s drone strike policy. Tea Party groups tried, and failed, to oust McCain during his 2010 re-election bid.
However, over the past year, Graham has been highly critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the IRS’s targeting of tax exempt groups.
Graham has said that he expects a vigorous primary challenge and has already raised more than $6 million for his 2014 campaign. A colonel in the Air Force Reserve, his staunchly pro-military stands could also serve him well among an important constituency in his native state.
A crowded GOP primary field would seem to help Graham by dividing the opposition arrayed against him. However, South Carolina has a runoff system for its primaries, which means that if the anti-Graham field can keep him under 50 percent, he would have to face the second place finisher in a runoff.
On the Democratic side, the only announced candidate so far is Jay Stamper, 41, of Columbia, the managing director of a non-profit business development group.
Given South Carolina’s staunch Republican tendencies, the winner of the GOP primary will be considered a prohibitive favorite in November.