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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham launches re-election bid with full-throated embrace of Donald Trump

Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Carolina for 2020 campaign kickoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GREENVILLE, South Carolina (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has become one of President Donald Trump’s most vigorous and unlikely defenders in the Senate. And now, he’s reaping the rewards.

Graham officially launched his 2020 re-election bid on March 30 with Vice President Mike Pence by his side at stops in Myrtle Beach and Greenville. And Pence brought greetings from the commander-in-chief.

“South Carolina and America need Lindsey Graham in the United States Senate, and I’m not the only one who thinks that where I work,” Pence told a rally in Greenville. “We’re standing next to this man because of the way he stood next to us.”

Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham campaign in Greenville (From WSPA via YouTube)

Graham also put his relationship with Trump front-and-center in his re-election campaign.

“Purpose No. 1 is to help President Trump in his second term, to be an ally of this president who has kept his word, who is making America great again and will continue to do so,” Graham said. “I want to help him because I believe in what he’s doing.”

It was not always thus. During the 2016 campaign, when he was running against Trump for president, Graham called him a “kook” who was “unfit for office.” In the general election, he voted for third-party candidate Evan McMullin, rather than embracing his party’s nominee — and openly admitted his apostasy to the press.

Graham had long been a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, the polar opposite of Trump’s stance on immigration policy. And his closest friend in the Senate was the late John McCain, Trump’s most persistent Senate critic.

But over the last year, Graham and Trump have warmed to each other, frequently playing golf together, and his previous criticism has been replaced with praise. And he has sided with the president in some very visible fights, most notably his defense of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I’ve come to find common ground with him,” Graham said of Trump in Greenville. “I like him, and he likes him, and that seems to be working for both of us.”

“Every day with President Trump is like Christmas. You don’t know what’s under the tree, but you know there’s something under it,” Graham said. “Some days it’s a good shotgun you’ve been wanting, and other days it’s a sweater. But it all works.”

Graham, 63, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is seeking his fourth term in the Senate in 2020. In his last two campaigns in 2008 and 2014, he faced primary challenges from opponents on the right who criticized him for being insufficiently conservative, particularly on the immigration issue.

Graham won both of those primaries, but in 2014 was held to 56 percent of the vote, not the strongest of showings for an incumbent senator.

If Graham needed a lesson in the perils of getting sideways with the president’s followers, it came last summer when then-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, a Trump critic who represented the Lowcountry in Congress, was bounced in a Republican primary in which the president endorsed his opponent.

Having Trump on side in 2020 will make it much more difficult for successful challenge to Graham from within the party.

Graham has already drawn three Republican challengers, but none of them are well known and are unlikely to be a threat.

In his three previous Senate elections, Graham won the general election easily in a state where Republicans are dominant. But he could face a Democratic challenge in 2020 from Jamie Harrison, a Columbia attorney and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who has formed an exploratory committee for the 2020 race.

Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in the Palmetto State since 1998.

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Allegations of sexual impropriety by Roy Moore roil Alabama U.S. Senate race

Woman says Moore had sexual contact with her when she was 14; three others allege he pursued them as teenagers

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is sharply denying a published report alleging that he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979 when he was 32 and working as a prosecutor in Alabama, calling it “totally false” and a “desperate political attack.”

Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore

Three other women also told The Washington Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers, although none of those women allege that any sexual contact beyond kissing took place.

The salacious allegations about Moore, coming just a month before a special election to fill the Senate seat, sparked alarm among GOP leaders, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying “if these allegations are true, [Moore] must step aside.”

However, if Moore were to withdraw, Alabama law would not allow Republicans to replace him on the ballot, which would force them to use a write-in campaign to prevent the coveted Senate seat from falling into the hands of Democrat Doug Jones.

Moore fought back against the allegations with a statement in which he called the story “completely false” and “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign.”

Noting that Moore has run public office numerous times over the last 40 years, his campaign issued another statement saying “if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now.”

“This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation,” the statement said, noting also that the Post’s editorial board has endorsed Jones. (However, it should be noted that in American newspapers, the editorial board operates independently from news reporters.)

Suggestions of sexual impropriety could pose a special problem for Moore, 70, because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

Moore was twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders on displaying the Ten Commandments and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He is also the founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law, which advocates social conservative views in court.

In the Post story, Leigh Corfman said Moore pursued her after meeting her outside an Alabama courthouse in 1979, when she was 14. She said they made two trips to his home, and, during the second trip, Moore touched her sexually over her underwear and had her do the same to him. At the time, Moore had not yet married his wife, Kayla.

The Post quoted a childhood friend of Corfman’s who said shetold her about her interactions with Moore around the time they happened; Corfman’s mother said her daughter told her about it a decade later, after Moore had become a local judge.

The three other women said Moore asked them out when they were teenagers. One girl’s mother forbade her from going out with the much-older Moore; the other two said their contact with Moore did not progress beyond kissing, and one said she and Moore drank wine together.

Corfman told the Post that she has voted Republican in the last three presidential elections and didn’t come forward until now because she feared the possible ramifications. The Post also reported that none of the women had made campaign donations to Jones or Moore’s Republican primary rival, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

The allegations in the Post have further eroded Moore’s already shaky relationship with fellow Republicans in the Senate, all of whom backed Strange in the primary. And in the current climate of heightened sensitivity to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Republicans were quick to put daylight between themselves and Moore.

At least nine Republican senators said publicly that Moore should withdraw if the allegations are true. On Twitter, U.S. Senator John McCain went even further, calling allegations “deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” and adding that Moore “should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.”

Even Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, joined the chorus; he was quoted by Politico as saying that “if that’s true, he doesn’t belong in the Senate.”

However, Moore — who twice put his job as chief justice on the line to defy federal courts — is unlikely to heed calls to step aside, especially coming from McConnell. Moore has said loudly and often that he would vote against McConnell as Republican leader if he gets to Washington.

Under Alabama law, Moore could withdraw from the race, and any votes cast for him would not count. However, the deadline to replace him on the ballot was 76 days before the December 12 election, which has come and gone.

The only possible option for Republicans would be to launch a write-in campaign, either for Strange or some other candidate. In 2010, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski used that technique to secure re-election in Alaska after losing a primary, although the logistics would be more difficult in Alabama, which has six times more population.

The allegations against Moore also might change the calculations for national Democrats, who have been reluctant to put money into the Alabama race despite polls showing that Jones is within striking distance.

Pressure to go all in for Jones increased after the November 7 election in Virginia, where Democrats swept three statewide races and nearly overturned the Republican majority in the lower house of the legislature.

The imbroglio surrounding Moore marks the second time in a year that a sex scandal has rocked politics in the Yellowhammer State.

In April, former Governor Robert Bentley resigned under threat of impeachment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide Rebekah Mason.

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after Bentley resigned, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year. Moore went on to defeat Strange in a September primary runoff.

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, Chickenfriedpolitics.com 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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