The only thing missing from the anti-Lindsey Graham rally was the senator himself. But there was a Graham cardboard cutout for people to get their picture taken with — and to direct their political anger.
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More than 14 months before the election, some Republicans are making it clear they are not happy with the state's senior senator, calling him too easy to compromise with the Obama White House.
And though their numbers might be small and their event Tuesday night high on theatrics, the dislike for Graham among the 100-plus people at the FreedomWorks town hall rally in North Charleston was apparent.
“He needs to leave,” said Doug Haberlie, who drove from Beaufort to attend the gathering at City Hall. “He's not representing the people of South Carolina.”
“We've got absolutely no business giving amnesty to anybody until that border is totally physically secure,” said another man, speaking in a microphone aimed toward the silent Graham cutout.
“What are you doing to protect my rights to bear arms?” asked a man.
While Graham was invited, organizers said, he was not at the event. He is out of the country, his office said, and that the destination won't be disclosed until he returns later this week.
That sort of absenteeism is what participants played up Tuesday, including a trend among some members of Congress in other parts of the country to avoid meeting constituents in any form of unscripted town hall-type gatherings, critics say.
Tuesday's event was sponsored by FreedomWorks, which bills itself as a connecting “over six million activists nationwide who believe in individual liberty and constitutionally-limited government.” Some of the attendees came from as far away as Bluffton and Myrtle Beach.
The FreedomWorks gathering precedes another Graham-targeted event scheduled for Thursday. The Tea Party Express, the nation's largest tea party-aligned political action committee, will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. at the Marriott hotel on Lockwood Boulevard in Charleston to ask Graham and other members of Congress to sign a letter showing their opposition to any spending bill that includes funding for the White House's health care law package.
Some have put their faith in trying to thwart funding “Obamacare” through a continuing resolution in Congress.
So far, three Republicans have announced bids to challenge Graham in next June's GOP primary: Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright, Upstate businessman Richard Cash, and Nancy Mace, the first female graduate at The Citadel. Mace was at the meeting but did not speak to the crowd.
While there will be a primary threat, some notable Republicans, including former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, predict the likelihood that Graham will be elected at “100 percent.” Graham also has a sizable war chest of more than $6 million.
“America is blessed to have a leader like Lindsey Graham who knows we are fighting a war against radical Islam and must remain vigilant,” McMaster said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
The event was streamed live on the Internet, which is a growing trend ahead of the election season.