US Sen. Graham seeks to fend off tea party in SC

by: MEG KINNARD, Associated Press Updated:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is trying to fend off six tea party challengers who say he's not conservative enough for this Republican-heavy state and may have to fight through a primary runoff if he can't win 50 percent of the vote Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, Graham's fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott won his primary by a wide margin, setting the stage for South Carolina to elect a black person to the U.S. Senate for the first time.

Scott was appointed to the seat in 2012 after Jim DeMint stepped down, and the general election winner will serve the remainder of DeMint's term.

As for Graham, the senator has raised more than $7 million for his campaign, far more than any of his opponents. But with polls showing his support hovering around 50 percent, he may not get more than half the vote, which he needs to win outright. If he gets less than 50 percent, he'll face the second-place finisher in a runoff June 24.

Those arrayed against Graham include state Sen. Lee Bright, Columbia pastor Det Bowers, Upstate businessman Richard Cash and Charleston-area businesswoman Nancy Mace, the first female cadet graduate from The Citadel, South Carolina's military college. Orangeburg County attorney Bill Connor and Columbia lawyer Benjamin Dunn were also seeking the nomination.

The challengers have hammered away at Graham, saying he's not conservative enough for South Carolina.

That didn't matter to Ben Lister, a 48-year-old financial planner from Greenville who voted for the senator.

"I know that some people are saying he should be more conservative, but what does that mean?" Lister asked. "I want a politician who actually thinks about the issues instead of going along with the crowd."

The Democrats had two primaries of their own, though it's widely expected that the Senate seats will remain in the GOP's hands.

State Sen. Brad Hutto won the nomination for Graham's seat, while Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson was nominated to face Scott. Dickerson is black, making this South Carolina's first-ever U.S. Senate general election between two black candidates.