Graham seeks to quell S.C. Republican revolt

COLUMBIA -- A day after the Greenville County Republican Party voted to censure him, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was in South Carolina on Tuesday vowing to fight for his seat in Congress.

Graham visited Columbia to renew his stand on the issue that most threatens his 2008 re-election -- illegal immigration.

"I can't please everybody, but I can try," Graham told reporters after appearing with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the University of South Carolina.

Graham's appearance with Chertoff marked another step in the freshman senator's efforts to quell rabid public criticism over his illegal immigration stance and repair relationships with conservative Republicans.

Conservatives are upset with Graham for pushing a bill, backed by President Bush, that they argue grants amnesty to a projected 12 million to 20 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

York County Republicans aren't likely to follow their party brethren in Greenville by censuring Graham. York County Chairman Glenn McCall believes a wiser course of action is to give Graham a competitive primary challenge.

"Their hearts are in the right place," McCall said of Greenville Republicans. "But the way I think it should be handled is through the primary system. We use the primary to take care of matters of this sort."

McCall said a handful of local Republicans have approached him about taking action toward Graham over his stance on immigration. In response, McCall publicly urged party members to send letters, e-mails and faxes to Graham's Senate office voicing displeasure.

"I think it will be good for the state and everybody involved if we have a primary," McCall said. "And I think it would be good for Lindsey. I think it will solidify, does he truly have support? Have the voters forgiven him?"

McCall mentioned former Gov. David Beasley and Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer as two possible challengers but said the field will become clearer this fall.

"I think there will be a couple of big names that will probably throw their hats in the ring," McCall said.

Since the immigration bill's defeat, Graham has been working to get the parts of the bill conservatives favor, such as providing billions of dollars for improved border security, passed.

"The biggest problem was the American people didn't trust that (the Senate legislation) would work -- that it would solve the problem," Graham said.

Taking a page from President Bush's playbook, Graham said Tuesday that illegal immigration is "a national security problem," on par with, and linked to, the war in Iraq and the broader global war on terrorism.

Graham and Chertoff met here with state legislators and employers to promote greater use of the Employment Eligibility Verification program as a means of cutting down on illegal immigrants who use fake identification to gain U.S. employment.

Graham's recent focus on policies conservatives favor hasn't stopped the calls for Republican challengers to step forward to take Graham on in primary elections next year. Internet chat rooms dedicated to conservative politics have taken to calling Graham a RINO -- Republican In Name Only.

But the anti-Graham chatter has not drawn a well-known, well-funded candidate who could pose a serious challenge. One reason Graham hasn't drawn such a challenge is his $4 million campaign war chest, one of the richest in Congress.

Graham thinks his record should please conservatives.

"I think I've been a good senator for the conservative cause," Graham said, noting he plans to stay in the public eye and to run on his conservative record on abortion, federal judges, earmarks and other issues.

State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, who met with Graham and Chertoff, said Republicans there praised Graham at a county party meeting he attended Monday.

It's those Republicans Graham is talking about when he says there are conservatives in his corner and advocating immigration reform.

"The problem doesn't get solved by saying no (to reform)," Graham said. "That's why I'm going to get back up on the horse. As a U.S. citizen, I feel I owe more to South Carolinians than to say 'no.'"