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The Go-to Senator

Lindsey Graham’s recipe for success

Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Duncan, S.C.
The pungent scent of sauerkraut permeates the room, but Lindsey Graham doesn’t have time to try it, or the pretzels, bratwurst, and schnitzel at the buffet. Each one of the few dozen business types gathered to celebrate the opening of a local chapter of the German-American Chamber of Commerce wants a chance to meet the senator, and Graham is more than eager to chat. An aide brings him a Coke Zero (his favorite), which he sips intermittently. 

Graham, with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, meets reporters after  discussing Benghazi with

Graham, with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, meets reporters after discussing Benghazi with administration officials.

Newscom

Graham is unassuming in his ordinary gray suit and dusty black shoes. The businessmen mostly look a little sharper. That doesn’t matter, though. They all want to shake the powerful senator’s hand, have their picture taken with him, and get in their word or two. He smiles at them all and asks, in his nasal twang, “How’s business?”

In an interview on our way to the reception, Graham says he sees himself as the “go-to guy” for South Carolina. That’s why he pushed for federal funding to deepen the Port of Charleston and fought against the National Labor Relations Board’s objection to Boeing’s relocation to South Carolina, a right-to-work state. If BMW, the German luxury auto giant that located its only American plant in South Carolina in 1994, has concerns about new federal seatbelt regulations, Graham wants to fix it. If immigration reform will make it easier for BMW to bring in high-skilled engineers from overseas, well, Graham will fight for it. “What I try to offer back home is to be the guy that will go to bat effectively in Washington,” Graham tells me. “We’re a service industry, and I try to create a service mentality around the job.”

In his brief remarks before the gathered suits, Graham says he is a strong ally of the business community, “without apology, without hesitation,” and promises to help make government work for businesses. “As long as I’m the senator from South Carolina, I will boldly and clearly stand with the chamber of commerce,” he says.

Graham, a 58-year-old Republican running for reelection this year, is likely to keep his job for as long as he likes. For many conservatives, this may be a difficult pill to swallow. In the realms of talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere, Graham’s name is a joke. He’s known to Rush Limbaugh’s listeners and Michelle Malkin’s readers as “Lindsey Grahamnesty.” Mark Levin, another conservative radio host, calls him “Goober” and the “Arlen Specter of South Carolina.” Will Folks, a South Carolina-based blogger and political troublemaker, refers to him as “Senator Lindsey Graham (RINO-S.C.)” and says his politics appeal to a “center-left base.”

Some smell blood. So far, four Republicans have declared themselves candidates in the 2014 primary against Graham, including a state senator and the first female graduate of the Citadel, the state’s military college. What’s more, some say Republican support for Graham in South Carolina is crumbling. Republican party committees in seven counties, including Graham’s native Pickens County, have voted to censure the senator. Sounds remarkable, except that in Pickens just 23 party members showed up for the vote. The language they adopted is harsh, accusing Graham of having committed “a long series of actions that we strongly disapprove of and hold to be fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the South Carolina Republican Party.”

The censure goes on to list 30 points on which Graham has been “fundamentally inconsistent” with the GOP platform. He supports amnesty for illegal immigrants without closing the southern border. He voted for Obama’s nominees to the Supreme Court and to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He worked with Democrats on a cap and trade bill. Graham, according to the censure, has also supported “NSA spying on private American citizens,” “Obama’s drone program against American citizens,” and “subordinating American sovereignty to the United Nations.” Republicans have lost primaries for lesser sins, but even Pickens County Republican chairman Philip Bowers is skeptical Graham will lose in 2014.

“Senator Graham will be extremely difficult to unseat,” Bowers says. “Most people understand that, but we are still ready to start the journey. Whether it takes 1 election or 10, we have to start somewhere.”

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