Sen. Lindsey Graham has represented South Carolina since 1995, but he hasn’t faced re-election since the Tea Party brought principled conservatives and libertarians to the forefront of the Republican Party. His last election was in 2008, and 2014 is not looking good for the veteran politician. In a recent poll, Graham won support from under 50% of the state’s Republican voters.
Worse, Graham doesn’t even break 40% among evangelicals, a group who makes up almost 60% of likely primary voters. Though the highest polling of Graham’s opponents (Lee Bright) currently polls at only 13%, with Nancy Mace at 10% and Richard Cash at 7%, Graham’s position as not only an incumbent, but an incumbent with universal name recognition running against currently-little-known challengers makes the low poll numbers particularly telling.
Graham’s low poll numbers come at a time that many moderate Republicans have been losing reelection bids to principled primary challengers. 2010 brought the first wave of Tea Party victories, and 2012 saw numerous Tea Party candidates winning primary challenges against establishment opponents. Long time Indiana Senator Richard Lugar lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock, and Ted Cruz famously won both the primary and general elections in Texas.
Graham isn’t the only establishing Republican who will be facing a tough 2014 primary, either. A recent report has already suggested that John Boehner will retire after the 2014 election, and high profile candidates are staging primaries against establishment backed candidates. Liz Cheney is running against Mike Enzi in Wyoming and Mitch McConnell is also in a tough battle.
South Carolina’s primary, like the Texas protocol which helped Cruz win, calls for a runoff election in the case of no candidate winning over 50% of the vote. This means that even if Graham gets more votes than any other candidate in the primary, if he does not break 50% a new election will take place between Graham and his top challenger. Though the South Carolina GOP has been unsuccessful at closing the state’s open primary system, it is noteworthy that Texas also has a mostly-open primary system.
In a statement regarding Graham’s low poll numbers, primary challenger Lee Bright told BenSwann.com blogger Joshua Cook, “a veteran of two decades, and a darling of the media with 100% name recognition is really in trouble at only 42% in the polls. It’s embarrassing frankly.”
“The numbers show that Lindsey Graham is out of touch with conservatives. Graham wants to fund Obamacare and bomb Syria. Graham has it all wrong, and that’s why he’s so vulnerable. We’re encouraged that even though we were the last to announce, we’re in a strong position. I’ve been telling our supporters and the media that all we need is a little financial support to retire Lindsey Graham, and this validates that. We never believed the reports that indicated he was bullet proof. We knew that was not the case,” Bright said.
Graham will indeed likely receive a high amount of funding from establishment types. His challengers will need some financial support to increase their name recognition, but the Senator’s positions and willingness to acquiesce to Democrats has made him fundamentally unpopular with the state’s voters.