Why Lindsey Graham’s Support for Immigration Reform Isn’t Popular in South Carolina

Beth Reinhard, Yahoo! News, May 2, 2013

Avery and Susan Burns don’t like the immigration-reform bill in the U.S. Senate one bit. “People come here illegally, and now we’re giving them the red carpet,” grumbled Avery, a 71-year-old doctor, climbing the steps of the public library on a recent morning.

His disgust is making him reconsider his support for home-state Sen. Lindsey Graham, the only Republican sponsor of the bill who is up for reelection in 2014. Yet Susan said she’d still vote for Graham because he’s a “strong Republican,” recalling his leadership during former President Clinton’s impeachment.


Immigration reform is not popular in this heavily conservative state, which followed Arizona’s lead and passed a tough crackdown on illegal immigrants two years ago. An anti-immigration group, Numbers USA, began airing a radio ad in February that demands, “Who elected Graham to demand amnesty and welfare for millions of illegal aliens?” Since then, his approval rating among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents has dropped from 72 percent to 58 percent, according to the Winthrop Poll. A pro-reform group that put up a statewide television spot to give Graham political cover doesn’t even mention immigration, suggesting that even the bill’s advocates see it as a tough issue to explain.


Graham isn’t taking anything for granted. He raised more than $1.1 million in the past three months, leaving him with nearly $5.4 million in the bank. The only Senate incumbent with more money is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mega-donor Sheldon Adelson hosted a fundraiser for Graham on Tuesday in Las Vegas. Challenges may come from state Sen. Lee Bright or Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, but neither has made a bid against the sitting senator official.

“You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” noted Carol Fowler, former chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. “Even if someone got in the race today and started raising money, they wouldn’t catch up for another 10 years.”

Graham has weathered blowback from anti-immigrant and other conservative groups before. When he championed a similar proposal during President Bush’s second term to allow illegal immigrants to earn citizenship, talk-show host Rush Limbaugh mocked him as “Lindsey Grahamnesty.” A Republican challenger, Buddy Witherspoon, ran an ad featuring photos of people crossing the border and a narrator proclaiming, “Gracias, Lindsey Graham!”  Graham trounced him in the 2008 primary. {snip}


{snip} Graham is also receiving some political cover from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the most popular Republicans in the country, who is leading the reform campaign in the media. “Sen. Rubio is so well regarded and so convincing on television, I think that will mitigate the fallout,” said Karen Floyd, former chairwoman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Evangelicals, who made up 40 percent of the South Carolina vote when Graham was reelected in 2008, are increasingly speaking in favor of allowing illegal immigrants to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation.


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