Graham's pledge to GOP incumbents in primaries puts him at odds with Sanford

COLUMBIA -- U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told state House and Senate Republicans he would support even raise money for any incumbent challenged in a Republican primary.

Graham's comments set him at odds with Gov. Mark Sanford, another prominent Republican, over GOP membership of the State House.

Sanford has criticized the Legislature as a whole as well as singling out some lawmakers for spending too much money, failing to reform government and putting local needs ahead of state needs.

Graham, who formerly served in the General Assembly, told House and Senate Republicans on Tuesday they had earned his support.

"I'll raise money for you. I'll say you're bad if you want me to. Whatever you want me to do, I'm here to help," Graham said. "We're a team ... I do believe an incumbent Republican who has led and wants to build the party needs to be supported."

Graham said he supports Sanford and the job he's done as governor, but Graham said he is working to unite Republicans against the "energy" Democrats have generated.

"The only way we lose as Republicans, I think locally or nationally, is to divide ourselves into different camps and lose sight of what we have in common," Graham said. "There can't be a litmus test. I'm not looking for universal agreement as to tests of who I support. I'm looking for people who'll work hard and who are honest and who I can agree with 80 percent of the time."

Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokes-man, said Sanford would pick and choose which candidates to endorse, if he endorses at all.

"There are a lot of incumbents that are doing a great job. There are a lot that aren't," Sawyer said. "He hasn't made any decision."

Sanford has said that changing the Legislature is crucial to his agenda of restructuring state government, lowering taxes and improving quality of life. Sanford repeatedly has denied targeting specific lawmakers.

But political observers expect third-party groups will fight the governor's battle for him.

The S.C. Club for Growth, led by a former Sanford staffer and an ally, has endorsed two Republican primary challengers, as well as 17 incumbents.