Four of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Republican primary opponents have inked a deal to oppose him all the way to the end.
Challengers Lee Bright, Richard Cash, Bill Connor and Dave Feliciano signed an agreement Thursday saying that if there's a runoff, they will support whoever among them makes it that far.
Most of the four have long been in agreement to support each other versus Graham, but putting their stances on paper is considered a political rarity in the state.
"We're determined to replace Lindsey Graham," said Cash, an Upstate businessman.
While the press event at the Statehouse was called to sign the measure, Feliciano changed the direction of the gathering when he accused Graham of being "ambiguously gay" during his turn at the podium.
Reached later, Feliciano, a retired Spartanburg police officer with no previous political experience, said he wasn't apologizing or backing down from his comments.
"I'm not very politically correct," he said, adding, "I didn't call him gay, I called him 'ambiguously gay.'"
Graham has previously turned back claims made by political opponents about his sexuality.
Feliciano added: "I have a lot of gay friends. It's no issue for me."
The agreement signed Thursday reads: "We, the undersigned genuine conservative Republicans, agree to endorse whichever one of our fellow signers advances to the run-off election against incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham following the South Carolina Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate on the 10th of June 2014."
A runoff between the top two vote-getters in the primary would be held June 24 if none of the candidates collect better than 50 percent of the vote in the party primary on June 10. The runoff winner would secure the GOP nomination.
Two other GOP candidates, Berkeley County businesswoman Nancy Mace and Columbia pastor Det Bowers, did not take part in the agreement. Mace said that signing the document would send the wrong signal to the thousands of primary voters she is after.
"It would be a disservice to my supporters if I were to ever even think about losing, let alone talk about it," she said. "I am in this to win."
Graham's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Feliciano's words or the agreement.
Meanwhile, a seventh Graham challenger announced a bid late Thursday. Columbia lawyer Benjamin Dunn said he too would be in the running. His biography lists no previous political experience.
The idea to formalize the group's long-standing desire to remove Graham from office originated with Connor, an attorney from Orangeburg. He raised the idea again with Bright, a state senator from Spartanburg, last week during the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington.
"He suggested it," Bright said, "and I thought it was great."
Lexington County tea party member Jack Hatfield brought the three together for the formal effort during a news conference at the Statehouse.
Bright said the other candidates' decision against signing the document shows they are not as entrenched in their anti-Graham efforts.
"Apparently, some of the challengers don't feel as strongly," he said.
Filing for the election begins at noon Sunday, but the state election commission and most county election offices will not be open for filing until Monday.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551
Notice about comments: