Graham touts Trump loyalty as he seeks 4th Senate term
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., kicked off his reelection campaign here over the weekend by having Vice President Pence – perhaps President Trump’s most loyal ally – underscore his own loyalty to the president.
“I have watched him stand in solidarity with President Trump and our administration,” Pence said Saturday at a beachfront hotel.
Earlier, Graham assured the more than 700 attendees – many of them wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats – that his “No. 1” priority is Trump’s re-election.
“I’m going to be a good ally to this president and be his partner,” he said.
Twenty months before voters head to the polls, Graham is starting his campaign for a fourth Senate term early – and doing everything he can to link himself to the president.
For Graham, the full embrace of Trump is, in part, an effort to stave off primary challengers, particularly someone who could be tempted to run against him as a Trump-style insurgent.
It is also a sign that Graham wants to energize Trump’s core voters in this traditionally red state while Democrats try to build on their recent gains. Democrats scored a victory in November in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District – a district won by Trump by more than 13 points in 2016.
Jaime Harrison, the first black chairman of the state Democratic Party and a former aide to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is exploring a Senate run and has been encouraged by national party leaders. Harrison’s campaign would probably attract significant attention from the Democratic presidential primary contenders making frequent stops in South Carolina, an early voting state.
“Lindsey understands that this is not a slam dunk for him,” Harrison said in an interview Sunday. “The refrain these days is: What’s happened to Lindsey? He’s won in the past with a coalition of country-club Republicans, independents and some moderate or conservative Democrats. But he’s lost some of those middle-of-the-road voters.” As Pence’s motorcade traveled through small towns, with Graham riding along, it was greeted by small crowds waving American flags.
There were scattered groups of protesters, too, holding posters urging Attorney General William Barr to release special counsel Robert Mueller’s complete report on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and Trump’s conduct.
But before Graham turns to the general election, he is focused on shoring up his Republican support – and locking down his party’s nomination.
While Graham is close with Trump and a regular golf partner to the president, he was a once a sharp-tongued critic.
He also has a long history of irritating conservatives with his independent streak and his attempts to pass bipartisan immigration legislation with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In 2014, Graham faced six lesserknown Republican challengers in his Senate primary race but ultimately won comfortably in a year when the tea party movement didn’t score many upsets.
By enlisting Pence for his campaign’s launch – and promising his supporters this weekend that Trump will come to stump for him later this year – Graham is aiming to scare off potential rivals.
A Winthrop University poll released in March showed Graham with 74 percent approval rating among state Republicans – up from 51 percent a year ago.
The crowd for Graham at the Embassy Suites in Myrtle Beach was a microcosm of Trump’s events in the South: older and white, veering from Republicans in navy blazers to activists in T-shirts.
Even their soundtracks aligned: Graham’s campaign played “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, followed by a soaring opera song – a playlist similar to the one at Trump’s arena rallies.
Later Saturday, Pence and Graham flew together on Air Force Two to Greenville, S.C., joined by South Carolina’s Gov. Henry McMaster, another avowed Trump ally in the GOP, to speak at a Baptist church in the area.