Watch out, Lindsey Graham: the Tea Party says that you are next.
According to sources in South Carolina and within the Tea Party, at least two serious challenges to Graham are expected to emerge in the next few weeks. Dustin Stockton, a leading conservative activist and head of Western PAC, told The Daily Beast that he is headed to South Carolina next month to help build a ground game for the 2014 primary.
Knocking off Graham, said Stockton, who helped defeat establishment candidates in Alaska and Nevada in 2010, was this year’s top Tea Party priority.
“The Lindsey Graham wing of the party,” he said, stands for “saying one thing and doing another, creating backroom deals, getting elected, and not doing anything.”
Richard Cash, a businessman and former South Carolina congressional candidate, announced his candidacy in April.
But Tea Party types are looking to coalesce around either Lee Bright, a Spartanburg state senator, or Nancy Mace, a public-relations executive.
Bright told The Daily Beast that he is looking to make an announcement in the coming weeks.
“My voting record in the state Senate is very similar to what Jim DeMint did in the U.S. Senate,” he said, referring to the hard-right former senator who resigned this year to lead the Heritage Foundation. “It is more of a match with conservative values in South Carolina. I just don’t think Graham is in touch with the people of South Carolina. He is more enamored of the national media than he is doing what South Carolinians would like to see him do.”
Nationally, Graham has been a frequent target of conservative ire for being willing to make deals with Democrats. And he has done nothing to endear himself to the right with his recent efforts to pass immigration reform and his outspoken criticism of Rand Paul’s filibuster on the use of drones.
But Graham has consistently managed to remain one step ahead of his detractors, raising $1.4 million in the last quarter alone to reach $6.25 million on hand. He has become one of the leading critics of the Obama administration, accusing the White House of covering up information about the attack of a State Department compound in Benghazi, Libya, and using the IRS for political purposes.
“Every election, at the state level, the county level, the precinct level, you find a bunch of people who talk about ousting Lindsey Graham,” said Hogan Gidley, a strategist and a former executive director of the state’s Republican Party. “But then they start watching TV ads, and more about his record comes out, and they say, ‘Wait a minute. This guy is more conservative than I thought.’ South Carolinians understand that at the end of the day you have a guy who is with you four out of five times, and that can be a pretty hard thing to find.”
Mace, who wrote an autobiography after she became the first female graduate of the Citadel in the military institute’s history, did not respond to a request for comment. She is also a co-owner of FITSNews—the name comes from “First in the South,” a reference to South Carolina’s status in the presidential-primary season. The site’s other owner is Will Folks, who shook—or at least irritated—the political world in 2010 when he claimed that he had an affair with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
For his part, Bright has been pushing his conservative bona fides. He’s introduced a number of bills in the state Senate that will be red meat to GOP primary voters. One abortion bill would regulate abortion clinics in the same way that similar bills in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Texas have done. Another, dubbed Constitutional Carry, would eliminate any special permitting for gun owners.
“If you own a weapon, you should be able to carry your weapon,” he said.
Graham, he said, “is a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and is not very concerned about our Fourth Amendment rights. He has been very much for centralized government power and control and not very friendly to our civil liberties.”
And Bright dismissed the notion that there remained some lingering affection for the senior senator.
“I have yet to find an area of the state that wouldn’t want to see him replaced,” he said.