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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham rolls to primary victory in South Carolina

Graham avoids runoff with majority in a race against six GOP rivals

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham — the No. 1 target of Tea Party and anti-establishment groups in this year’s GOP primaries — has easily won renomination over a field of six challengers.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

Graham took 56 percent of the vote in the June 10 Republican primary, far ahead of the second place finisher, State Senator Lee Bright of Spartanburg, who took just 15 percent. The rest of the field polled in single digits.

Graham will now face Democratic State Senator Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, who won the Democratic primary, Given the state’s strong Republican tendencies, Graham will be a prohibitive favorite.

Graham, 58, who is seeking this third term in the Senate, has run afoul of some Tea Party groups and conservative anti-establishment activists for his efforts to reach bi-partisan compromises with Democrats, including his support of an immigration reform bill that was opposed by most Republican senators.

His close political and personal friendship with U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona has also drawn fire, particularly over their blistering criticism of U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for his filibuster over President 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 buttressed his conservative credentials with heavy criticism 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 benefited from the large number of Republicans who filed to run against him, which fragmented the field and did not allow any of them to catch fire.

Fully anticipating he would be challenged in the primary, Graham also raised and spent more than $7 million, dwarfing his competitors, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Graham is one of five sitting Southern Republican senators in 2014 who have drawn primary challengers backed by Tea Party and anti-establishment conservative groups. Those challenges fell short in Kentucky and Texas but in Mississippi, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran was forced into a runoff. The fifth race is in Tennessee, which doesn’t hold its primary until August.

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