Sens. Rand Paul, Tim Scott appear at Upstate fundraiser

— Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — a possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful — said Monday he doesn’t expect to get involved in Sen. Lindsey Graham’s primary battle next year, but he hasn’t completely ruled it out.

Graham currently faces three Republican challengers who say he is too prone to compromise and not conservative enough.

Some Lowcountry conservatives plan to meet from 6-7:30 tonight at North Charleston City Hall to discuss Graham, who they invited but who isn’t expected to attend.

Paul, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, has disagreed with Graham over foreign aid, drone strikes and the National Security Agency’s data collection, among other issues.

Still, Paul said he was not inclined to get involved in Graham’s primary. “I’m going to try to let South Carolina determine who they want for their senator,” he said, adding, “I haven’t completely closed the door.”

Paul was here to join U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan for his annual barbecue fundraiser, one that was expected to draw more than 600 supporters to the Anderson Civic Center. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., also attended, as did former Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana.

All of Graham’s announced opponents, state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, businesswoman and first female Citadel Grad Nancy Mace and Upstate businessman Richard Cash were working the room as people lined up for a plate of barbecue.

Monday’s event was primarily to help Duncan, but it also gave Paul yet another chance to speak in an early voting state.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rates Paul as one of three top tier 2016 Republican presidential contenders, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But Paul said he won’t decide for many more months if he will enter the race.

“I want to try to help different Republican candidates over the country,” he said, “and talk about issues that will grow the party larger.”

Asked what the United States should do in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, Scott said the country first must ask “what is our national interest in Syria. I’m not sure we have clarified what that position is.”

Paul said it would be up to Congress, not President Obama, to declare war in Syria, and he said weighing in to help the rebels would pose two ironies: It would be supporting Islamic militants, while Christians are more on the side of Syria President Bashar al-Assad. He also said those fighting al-Assad have ties to al-Qaida.

Paul, who comes from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, is son the of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who drew passionate support from a small slice of the state’s GOP electorate during his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs.

If he were to run, he could attract support from younger conservatives, much like his father did, said Citadel assistant science professor Scott Buchanan.

“A lot of Republicans who are under the age of 30 are not the same kind of Republicans that they’re grandparents are. They’re much more libertarian,” he said. “I know my students are disgruntled with the Republican Party in terms that they are too worried about social issues and that they don’t take it to the Democrats like they should.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.

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