In shocking news last night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost in the Virginia primary to dark-horse Tea Party candidate and political newcomer, David Brat. This defeat for the Republicans follows disappointing news from the Mississippi primaries last week, in which incumbent Thad Cochran was forced into a runoff with challenger Chris McDaniel.
Fortunately for the Republicans, they were able to rebound last night following a victory by veteran South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Much like Cantor and Cochran, Graham has faced much resistance and opposition from his home state for not being “conservative” enough. The Tea Party has been able to mount quite a vocal challenge based around Graham’s bipartisan approach to politics, singling out his soft stance on illegal immigration, his support of climate change legislation, and his approval of President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominations as reasons why Graham should be replaced in the Senate.
Reid says Lindsey Graham proves GOPs can do immigration reform and not be "scared of their own shadows."
— Todd Zwillich (@toddzwillich) June 11, 2014
Unfortunately for the anti-Graham populace of South Carolina, there were perhaps too many opponents running against 12-year incumbent.
With almost all precincts reporting on Tuesday night, Graham held 57 percent of the popular vote, more than enough to avoid a runoff. His next closest opponent, State Senator Lee Bright, accumulated only 15 percent of the vote. None of Graham’s other 4 challengers broke double digits.
Graham was able to fend off Tea Party opposition through multiple means, perhaps the most important being spending. Following his 2008 election, Graham recognized the potential future threat the Tea Party posed. Planning ahead, Graham began a hard campaign to raise as much money as possible. Over the span of six years, Graham was able to raise $12 million for his campaign – none of Graham’s challengers surpassed the $1 million mark.
This huge surplus in funds allowed Graham to advertise himself to every voter in South Carolina through a variety of mediums: “He’s on every television station, he’s on every radio station and he’s just done his homework. He has effectively muted his opponents, because none of them can match him, dollar for dollar,” stated David Woodard, the Thurmond Professor of Political Science at Clemson.
Graham was also able to quiet his opponents criticizing him for not being conservative enough by being consistent with his views. Many believe Cantor’s loss was due to his soft, wavering stance on immigration. While Senator Graham shares the same views on immigration as Cantor, he was able to overcome his opposition by sticking to his guns on other conservative issues, such as the repeal of Obamacare, pro-business legislation, and especially his warhawk foreign policy positions.
I try to solve problems. What my opponents saw as my biggest fault, SC Republicans saw as my biggest asset.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 11, 2014
“The reason I’m going to win the primary, overwhelmingly I hope, is I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican,” Graham stated during the South Carolina GOP debates last week.
If the Republican party wants to avoid more crushing losses in the near future, perhaps they should look towards how Senator Graham ran his campaign. Or, taking another lesson from Graham, consult the Ronald Reagan playbook.
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