Elections

Graham locks down home state support — and seeks to lock out primary challengers

Lindsey Graham does not yet have a viable primary challenger — and the South Carolina Republican intends to keep it that way.

On Wednesday, the incumbent U.S. senator’s campaign announced that every Republican in the state’s congressional delegation is endorsing Graham for re-election in 2020, according to a press release first obtained by McClatchy, which owns The State.

“I’m honored to have my Republican colleagues endorse my campaign for re-election,” said Graham in a statement. “Senator (Tim) Scott is a close friend, an outstanding representative of the people, and a highly respected senator. My House colleagues make a difference every day for the conservative cause, and I am tremendously grateful for their hard work and support of my campaign.”

The announcement follows Graham’s rollout last week of endorsements from every Republican statewide elected constitutional officer.

The endorsements signal that Graham’s support is strong inside his party, an advantage that Graham’s opponents from previous election cycles have challenged. In 2014, he faced off against several primary opponents who claimed they were more conservative than Graham and were incensed with the senator’s efforts to work across the aisle on comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation.

While Graham is now trying to make a deal on immigration again, he now has more political room to maneuver on this controversial issue, thanks to his strong alliance with President Donald Trump and his star-making performance during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceedings.

Some of the S.C. congressional delegation’s most conservative hardliners sang Graham’s praises in the press release from the senator’s campaign.

“President Donald Trump needs allies like Lindsey Graham in the Senate,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, who represents Graham’s home turf in the Upstate and was at one point whispered about as a possible 2020 primary challenger. “With Senator Graham leading the charge to confirm the president’s judicial nominees, I know we’ll install conservative judges at all levels whose impact will be felt for decades.”

Graham is the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“No one has done more than Lindsey Graham to confirm President Trump’s conservative judges and help rebuild our military. That’s why we need Lindsey Graham re-elected to the United States Senate,” echoed U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill.

There are currently four Republicans who have indicated through campaign finance filings they intend to challenge Graham in the GOP primary. At this point, none of them have the name recognition, reputation or connections that would make them competitive.

But the strategy of rolling out the statewide and congressional delegation endorsements within a week of each other — and, in a first for the Graham campaign, in complete groupings of all the relevant elected officials — also serves as a warning to these Republicans, and anyone else who might be thinking about trying to unseat Graham: They won’t have the institutional support they need to win, and Graham’s friends in high places will rush to his defense. Vice President Mike Pence even came to South Carolina for Graham’s official campaign kick-off back in March.

Democratic challenger rallying support

While Graham is promoting his clout among Republicans, Jaime Harrison — his likely Democratic challenger — is rallying support among Democrats.

The former state party chairman who currently holds a leadership position with the Democratic National Committee, Harrison is running in a primary against Gloria Bromell Tinubu, a two-time Democratic nominee for South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District seat and a lieutenant governor contender in 2018 who previously held elected office in Georgia.

But in a sign Democrats see Harrison as their best chance at defeating Graham — a steep climb in a reliably Republican state — most of the party’s major players in and outside of South Carolina have already endorsed Harrison. He’s gotten a commitment of financial resources from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and, on Wednesday, revealed he had support from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a civil rights icon.

But if the momentum behind Harrison is worrying to Graham, his campaign isn’t showing it.

“We’re doing exactly what Senator Thurmond always advised,” Graham’s campaign told McClatchy, referring to South Carolina’s longtime Republican standard bearer. “‘Run like you’re behind.’”

Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where her reporting on South Carolina politics appears in The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.
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