Graham challengers largely agree with each other at Rock Hill forum

jzou@heraldonline.comNovember 19, 2013 

Republican challengers for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seat took jabs at the South Carolina incumbent while also trying to differentiate themselves from one another during a political forum Tuesday night in Rock Hill.

The event was hosted at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek by GPS Conservatives for Action, a nonprofit political action committee that meets in Rock Hill.

Three of Graham’s four Republican challengers were present – state Sen. Lee Bright, former congressional candidate Richard Cash and former lieutenant governor candidate Bill Connor.

Missing from the forum was Nancy Mace, a public relations executive from Charleston who is also campaigning for the seat. According to GPS leaders, Mace declined to attend because she is focusing on raising campaign money.

All three speakers vouched for a tea party-friendly platform that calls for smaller government, and all mostly agreed with one another when it came to audience questions on the Affordable Care Act (sometimes referred to as Obamacare), federal involvement in state affairs and tax reform. All three lambasted President Barack Obama’s leadership and Graham’s bipartisan legislative work.

“Lindsey Graham is not going to take the fight to Obama,” said Bright, who emphasized his uncompromising demeanor and ability to filibuster. “I’m not going along to get along if you put me in Washington.”

Bright, who has served in the state Senate since 2008, called himself a supporter of the “unborn,” referring to his anti-abortion stance – a view shared by the other two challengers. He pointed to his voting record as evidence of his commitment to stand outside his own party.

Connor, an Orangeburg attorney who lost a 2010 runoff for state lieutenant governor, played up his military background, saying that out of all three at Tuesday night’s forum, only he could challenge Graham on his own turf.

“I believe I’m the person who can take him on,” said Connor, who vowed to bring “kitchen-table values” as senator. He said he “could stand toe-to-toe” with the senator on national defense and foreign policy.

Cash took a more down-home approach, pushing his three C’s: Christianity, capitalism, and Constitution. He pledged to restore morality and a faith-based approach to government.

“The cultural foundation is disintegrating,” said the computer analyst from Anderson. “This nation needs to turn back to God.”

Both Steve Hovis, 60, and Roy Bird, 73, said they leaned toward Connor as their first pick to challenge Graham and appreciated his take on the military and appreciation for the Constitution.

Hovis added that Bright came in a close second for him, but that ultimately any of the three challengers would do.

“They’re speaking my language,” said Hovis. “I liked what I heard from all three.”

He said he wants to see Graham replaced with a senator who won’t “cross the aisle” and doesn’t compromise.

For Bird, it’s a matter of picking the best candidate who can stand up to Graham. “Lindsey has not represented me for a long while,” said the McConnells resident, who wants stricter immigration laws and opposes the health care law.

But not everyone agreed that Graham needs to be replaced. Diane Carr, a retired entrepreneur from Lake Wylie, said she was unimpressed by all three candidates.

“They don’t have it,” she said of the men. “They’re not what I call a top-tier candidate.” The self-identified Reagan-conservative said she thought the candidates lack the political experience needed to be productive on Capitol Hill and questioned whether they’re well-known enough to successfully challenge a longtime incumbent such as Graham.

“I like his stance 80 percent of the time,” Carr said of Graham. “The other times, I guess we have to agree to disagree.”

GPS President Paul Anderko refrained from endorsing any candidate but said he thinks the tides have changed for Graham and that he will not have grass-roots support in the state next year.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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