Sen. Lindsey Graham has won his Republican primary against his six competitors, and with over 50 percent of the vote has avoided a run-off in the South Carolina senate race, according to the Associated Press.
With 77.3 percent of precincts reporting, Graham came in with 57.4 percent and his next competitor was State Senator Lee Bright, who only brought in 15 percent. It’s worth noting that businesswoman Nancy Mace, who was heralded when she entered the race as a possible contender to topple the two-term incumbent, came in fifth with 6.2 percent.
Graham’s primary was supposed be a tough race with tea party and conservative groups opposing the two-term senator and lining up months ago to predict what a difficult primary he would likely have. He has even been censured by local tea party groups in the state, but in the end it was the primary that wasn’t.
Unlike in Mississippi, where the establishment Republican, six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, had a difficult primary and now run-off, none of Graham’s challengers were able to coalesce the anti-Graham vote.
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Joel Sawyer, a GOP consultant in South Carolina unaligned with any of the candidates, said he thinks it was the goal and the “intent” of conservative groups that “once a person proved their mettle” to try and coalesce tea party support around one challenger, “but that never happened…for whatever reason conservative groups are reluctant to spend money against Graham.
“There is reticence for those folks to put their money where their mouth is in terms of coming after Graham,” Sawyer said.
Graham has been attacked from the right for his support of immigration reform, among other issues, including being willing to negotiate with Democrats, but none of the big tea party groups like Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks or the Madison Project got behind a candidate.
FreedomWorks did print up some anti-Graham materials including yard signs and voter education materials, but that’s nothing compared to how much they have been involved in other races like the Mississippi Senate GOP primary.
Sawyer believes there are a few reasons Graham sailed to victory including “benefiting from a large field where it was impossible for his opponents to coalesce their support around one person.”
“You had six opponents that by and large ran the same campaign,” Sawyer explained, adding he thinks there has been a “tendency” to say there is a “trend” of establishment candidates beating tea party candidates, but really it is that they are “weak, unvetted, unprepared challengers.
“In this case there are six challengers on equal footing with one another, competing against each other for oxygen and none of them are really able to rise to the top of that cluttered field of Not-Lindsey Graham,” he said. “Part of it is because no single challenger emerged as significantly better, significantly more appealing than the others…the opposition to Lindsey Graham is a mile deep, but an inch wide. Those people who don’t like him are very vocal, but it does not mean they represent the larger electorate.”
He also swamped his opponents in fundraising, with about $8 million cash on hand, which let him wage an air war his opponents could not compete with.
His latest ad touted his support for “building the Keystone pipeline” as well as “opposing Obamacare” and “looking for answers on Benghazi.”
Sawyer says it wasn’t just the money or the amount of opponents, instead it was the basics: “Lindsey ran a really good campaign.”
“A lot of people were assuming he would sit on high and drop $8 million and not go out and get his hands dirty,” Sawyer said. “This election has shown he’s still got it in terms of getting out there and pressing the flesh.”