COLUMBIA -- In Glenn McCall's ascension to the top ranks of the South Carolina Republican Party, a defining moment came last year during the controversy over illegal immigration.
The state's senior U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, had come out in support of a bill derided as a form of amnesty. McCall didn't like it. So the York County GOP chairman did something few people in his party ever do: Encourage Republicans to speak out against one of their own.
On Saturday, shortly after winning one of South Carolina's two spots on the Republican National Committee, McCall was asked to reflect on that episode. He believes outspoken criticism of Graham established his reputation in the party and convinced fellow conservatives that he would stand up for them, even if it meant taking a risk.
"People saw me as not being a yes person," said McCall, 54. "It helped across the state. We just blasted that around to all the delegates, and got a very good response."
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McCall will become the first black from South Carolina to sit on a 100-member national committee that decides party platforms, shapes election strategy and sets the primary schedule.
The 70-to-30 percent margin at Saturday's state GOP convention surprised even McCall's closest supporters, who had expected the race to be much closer.
"I can't tell you how many hours went in," said Becky Delleney of Chester, one of McCall's chief organizers. "This was a very concerted effort. We had people in York County making phone calls over the state."
McCall is the second black elected by a state party to the RNC this year. Michigan Republicans earlier elected Keith Butler. The RNC says it will affirm Butler's and McCall's elections in a September meeting.
As he spoke to county parties and key activists across the state, McCall emphasized the need for Republicans to reach beyond their traditional base while staying true to their values. His message contrasted with that of opponent Drew McKissick, a Columbia political strategist who touted his experience working with the party's rank-and-file.
During a nominating speech, a supporter said McKissick is the kind of person you want in your foxhole. McCall responded when the time came for him to speak.
"I think it's time for our party to get out of the foxhole," he said. "We need to get on the offense. When we say we've been working in the back room, it's time in the party we come out. We need to come out and build new bridges. We're hurting if we don't. It's time that we reach out."
McCall, who lives in Rock Hill and works as a vice president at Bank of America in Charlotte, is likely to take on a high-profile role in the national party by appearing on cable news talk shows and speaking at key party functions. McCall and others close to him acknowledge that his race makes him uniquely qualified to be an ambassador.
"Nothing would make me more proud than to see this convention make someone like Glenn McCall its national committeeman," said longtime GOP activist Rusty DuPass, who spoke on McCall's behalf. "We have an opportunity this year because of what's happening in our party and what's happening in the other party, to really make a statement."
Big boost from Greenville
Delegates from the state's largest counties -- those with the most say in the decision -- broke for McCall. The biggest boost might have come from Greenville, the heart of the Bible Belt in South Carolina. McCall garnered 45 votes compared to 20 for McKissick.
"He was never ashamed to name the Lord Jesus Christ," said Suzanne Sapp, who works for the publishing company at Bob Jones University. "And it was real. It wasn't just cliché. Some people talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. That's what's wrong with the Republican Party right now."
Elsewhere in the state, supporters said they appreciated McCall's clear, concise message about what it means to be conservative.
"He spoke the way things should be," said Al Bostic, a retired engineer from Gaffney. "Conservative. Christian values. All the good things. That goes a long way in my book."
Support from the top
In the days leading up to the state GOP convention, McCall received words of support from some of the state's leading Republican figures, even if some didn't go public with their preferences. Gov. Mark Sanford did little to hide his enthusiasm for McCall during an interview outside the convention hall.
"In growing the conservative movement, it's important to not just have white faces in making your case," Sanford said before the vote. Sanford quickly added that he wasn't taking sides, saying it was "for the family to decide."
A similar sentiment came from U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina's other Republican senator. "Glenn's kind of a personal favorite of mine," said DeMint. "His opponent is a great guy, too. But Glenn's my sentimental favorite."
McCall's victory should send a message, said state GOP Chairman Katon Dawson. "It speaks volumes about the party," Dawson said. "We're open to all voters. For reasons that you saw today, we're a very inclusive party."
Going forward, McCall said his role will be to reach out and bring new voters into the fold.
"We get the criticism that we're a bunch of fat cats and we don't care about the common folks," he said. "That's not true. And that's my job, to let others know you don't have to be black, white, brown or yellow. Just be a conservative, and you're welcome in our party."