THE ISSUE: Sen. Graham and June primary; OUR OPINION: Control of and influence in Senate may help Graham win the day

The headlines following Tuesday’s political primaries proclaimed the tea party movement has been diluted as mainstream Republicans such as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell scored victories.

From the Washington Post: “After years of intraparty turmoil that cost Republicans key races, voters this year are coalescing around the GOP’s strongest candidates ahead of November’s general election, when control of the Senate during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office will be up for grabs.”

Teaparty.net responds: “The headlines that we’ve seen since Tuesday are brutal for our movement. CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News, have all been pushing a uniform narrative: the Tea Party is extreme and the defeat of individual candidates MUST mean the destruction of the entire movement. That’s wishful thinking on their part because we aren’t going anywhere!”

Among the politicians for whom the news about declining tea party influence should be good is senior South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who faces six challengers in the June primary, all of them trying to lay claim to being the conservative and tea party alternative. They claim the senator is not conservative enough for South Carolina.

And they claim the tea party, particularly in South Carolina, is not going anywhere, each looking to claim as much support in the name of the tea party as possible.

Orangeburg attorney and Afghanistan combat veteran Bill Connor continues to receive his share of such backing, with a state tea party movement leader Steve Rapchick of Mount Pleasant and the Charleston Mercury offering endorsements.

And state Sen. Lee Bright is trying his best to lay claim to the mantle of Graham alternative, citing a Wenzel Strategies survey that shows Graham remains below the needed 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.

Graham polled 48 percent, while Bright was at 19 percent and about 15 percent were undecided. The other 18 percent was split among the five other competitors,

“Lindsey Graham is not going to get to 50 percent, and then he’ll have to face us in the runoff,” Bright said. “It’s not like anyone can possibly find out anything new about Graham that will help him.”

Don’t be so certain.

Even in very conservative South Carolina there is a desire to see Republicans win control of Congress and for the state to have influence in the leadership. Conservative organizations are supporting Graham and trying to boost his standing on the right.

For example, in the face of accusations that Graham is not pro-life, the South Carolina Values Coalition, made up of pro-family and pro-life leaders from across the state and co-chaired by former Attorney General Charlie Condon, has pledged to build support for Graham.

“Lindsey Graham has a proven record of fighting for the traditional family values we hold dear in South Carolina,” Condon said. “He’s stood up for traditional marriage, passed legislation to protect the unborn, and worked hard to preserve the American dream for our future generations. I know Lindsey Graham and am proud to stand with him as he stands for the conservative values we share.”

Despite polls that show Graham shy of the 50 percent mark, it remains likely that he will get at least a share of the undecided vote and get over the top on primary day. But if he does not, then South Carolinians will be put in the position of deciding just how influential the tea party is or is not. Defeating Graham would be a major political feat and open the door to real debate about who will claim the seat in November’s general election.

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