Politics & Government

Graham leans on McCain ties for re-election bid

Sen. Lindsey Graham makes it clear as he seeks re-election that his political future is tightly woven with that of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

He has hitched his hopes for a second term to the Arizona senator's bandwagon, crafting a message that what's good for the country will be particularly good for the state.

“My re-election, I think, will benefit South Carolina because if he gets to be president, South Carolina's interests will have a receptive audience due to our relationship,” Graham said recently.

Tuesday's primary involving Graham, 52, a fellow Republican and two Democratic challengers headlines a day at the polls that includes congressional primaries in Virginia and Maine. South Carolina's primaries also present challenges for three sitting congressmen and many state senators and representatives.

At a recent campaign breakfast, Graham talked about how he and McCain don't toe the GOP line on immigration, Social Security, the war in Iraq or how judges are confirmed.

“John has risked his political career at least four times in the last two years that I can remember and I've got the scars to prove it,” Graham said.

The Iraq surge came as the duo found a wave of opposition for their brokered deals with Democrats on an immigration law overhaul. At the state GOP convention a year ago, the crowd booed and shouted “No!” at Graham's explanations of the bill, which would have provided a path to citizenship.

Graham, a lawyer and Air Force Reserve colonel, became the butt of criticism from conservatives. Rush Limbaugh called the immigration bill “Grahamnesty.”

Buddy Witherspoon, who is challenging Graham in the primary, has seized on the issue in campaign ads. A retired orthodontist who stepped down from the Republican National Committee to run, Witherspoon characterizes himself as a devout Christian who opposes abortion and gay marriage and knocks Graham for being “joined at the hip” with McCain, particularly on illegal immigration.

Witherspoon, 69, knows his odds are long. As of late May, Witherspoon had $94,484 cash available; Graham had $4.5 million.

“I'm not worried about him,” said Graham, who's spending some of his money on TV ads that touch on his anti-abortion stance, military record and fight against taxes.

Graham's two lightly funded Democratic challengers, Mount Pleasant attorney Michael Cone and North Myrtle Beach engineer Bob Conley, also knock him as backing an illegal immigration plan they call amnesty.

In the congressional primaries, three of S.C.'s four GOP U.S. House members face Republican opponents. Rep. Henry Brown in the coastal 1st District faces two Republicans and two Democrats. Rep. Joe Wilson faces one Republican, while two Democrats are also vying for his seat. Three Democrats and one Republican opponent want the seat held by Rep. Bob Inglis of the northern part of the state.

The state's two Democratic congressmen, Reps. John Spratt and Jim Clyburn, took leadership positions following the 2006 elections – Spratt as House Budget Committee chairman and Clyburn as House Majority Whip – and face no primary opposition.

In northern Virginia, four Democrats are seeking the nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Tom Davis, who has held the office for nearly 14 years.

The two leading candidates are Gerry Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and former Rep. Leslie Byrne.

The primary winner will face Republican Keith Fimian, a businessman making his first run for office.

Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox in Irmo, S.C., and Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va., contributed to this report.

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