Lindsey Graham: 2014 Survivor?

Credit: Brendan Smialowski/The New York Times
Credit: Brendan Smialowski/The New York Times

Two things are putting Republican moderate incumbents in danger: Congress’ abysmal approval ratings, and Tea Party conservatives. In a state like South Carolina, where six of seven U.S. Representatives are Republicans, and very conservative ones at that, one Senator has become, in the words of CNN’s Peter Hamby, “one major scalp that conservatives activists have yet to claim.” His name is Lindsey Graham. Last month, Shane Goldmacher of National Journal named him one of the “Top Ten Lawmakers Who Could Lose a Primary Next Year.” He’s been a target of conservative groups who don’t agree with his support for immigration reform and for President Obama’s nominations for the Supreme Court. And almost 53% of South Carolina Republicans and GOP-leaning independents approve of the Tea Party movement. Looking at these numbers, one would think that yes, Lindsey Graham is in big trouble. Actually, he’s not. And here’s why.

Despite the fact that the majority of likely GOP primary voters approve of the Tea Party, only a sliver of them see themselves as a part of the faction. Less than 8%. For all the discussion about how instrumental the Tea Party could prove in ousting Sen. Graham, I would say that the power of the Tea Party in the South Carolina Republican Primary is being vastly over-estimated. The main catalyst for what became the Tea Party was widespread disapproval of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Lindsey Graham’s support for comprehensive immigration reform may be derided by some on the right as “amnesty”, but it certainly isn’t the thing that can drive conservatives to the polls like in 2010.

Graham has immense strategic benefits going into the 2014 primary. Chief among these is the fact that all of his challengers are coming from the right. Keith Wagstaff of The Week wrote the following about Graham’s opponents in the Republican field:

“Some conservatives are also concerned that the three challengers might end up splitting the anti-Graham vote, allowing the incumbent to cruise to victory.”

There is really only room for one conservative alternative to Graham, and yet there are currently three in the running. A potential disaster in the making for the anti-Graham-ites? Absolutely. And then there’s Graham’s war chest. Politico‘s James Hohmann reported in July that Graham has $6.25 million in cash on hand, a powerful amount for a Senate primary.

In conclusion, Senator Lindsey Graham, the often-unpredictable Republican, has a great chance of winning both the South Carolina GOP primary and the following general election, despite the huffing and puffing about and from the local Tea Party groups. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post writes that, although he faces opposition on the right, Sen. Graham may not have much to fear:

“Graham-haters are right that the tea party have intensity behind the effort to oust the incumbent senator. What his opponents haven’t demonstrated is that they have the numbers.”

Indeed. Pundits can pontificate all they want; the underlying reality is that, for now, Lindsey Graham looks to be a likely 2014 moderate survivor. He has the money to do it. He has the strategy to do it. And his challengers have none of the above.

What do you think? Is Lindsey Graham likely to survive his primary? Are there any moderate incumbents in danger of not doing the same? Comment, or share on Facebook or Twitter, to support the work of this blog. Your opinions are appreciated.

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