U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham asked several dozen supporters at his new Charleston re-election headquarters Tuesday to rally Republicans with two aims in mind.
He wants them to support his renomination bid in the GOP primary June 10, and said they can send a message to the rest of the country that Ronald Reagan conservatism is alive and well in South Carolina.
"Let's run up the numbers here," he said. "Let's knock it out of the park in the Lowcountry."
Graham, who said he will file his re-election papers Wednesday, is expected to face about a half-dozen primary opponents, most of whom say he has not been conservative enough.
"The chief criticism of me is I'll talk to the other side," Graham said, adding the Democrats are not going to go away and that tackling big issues, such as Social Security reform, require a bipartisan approach.
Graham also dedicated his campaign to his late mother and father, who ran a liquor store in Central. He said the Social Security survivor's benefit helped him and his sister and extended family cope after his parents' deaths, and that government does have a role to play.
What is different about this race is the uncertainty in the country, he said. "The idea of solving problems is getting harder and harder."
The state's senior senator also rattled off a list of local priorities, including deepening Charleston's port and ensuring its military bases survive any cutbacks. He also mentioned national and international issues such as fighting Obamacare, defending Israel, building the Keystone pipeline, and asking Attorney General Eric Holder why President Barack Obama feels he can rewrite laws he doesn't like.
Graham also brushed aside last week's quip from a long-shot GOP opponent, ex-police officer Dave Feliciano of Spartanburg, who called Graham "ambiguously gay."
"That just comes with the territory," Graham said. "People in South Carolina have a good way to fix all of that. The ballot box takes care of such people."
Graham drew several prominent former officials to his announcement, including former U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, former U.S. Attorney General Bart Daniel, former Charleston City Councilman Henry Fishburne and retired Lt. Gen. Claudius "Bud" Watts, former president of The Citadel.
Former Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails also appeared to show his support.
"Absolutely I'm supporting Lindsey," Swails said. "This is America, and you can run from the right and you can run from the left, but whether it's city government, county government, state government or federal government, you better govern from the middle, and I think Lindsey does a wonderful job of doing that."
Graham's event also drew some new faces, such as Linda Heller Lynn, who retired and moved from Maryland to Charleston seven years ago.
"Lindsey Graham is the one senator I always admired," she said. "Moving to South Carolina and be able to vote for him is wonderful, as far as I'm concerned."
Lynn called the existence of so many primary foes "troublesome," adding, "I don't think anybody can sit back and assume. You have to get out and do what you can."
A few hours after opening his office, Graham received a standing ovation from about 200 members and guests at the Charleston Rotary Club.
Neither Graham nor any questioners mentioned his GOP opponents, who include state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Charleston public relations executive Nancy Mace, Orangeburg lawyer Bill Connor, Easley businessman Richard Cash, Feliciano, and Columbia pastor and retired lawyer Det Bowers.
But most in the audience were aware that Graham faces a fight in June.
"My primary is not about conservatism," he said. "I think it's a referendum on the times in which we live. ... This state can survive well without me. The country can survive well without me. But what we can't survive without is finding common ground."
Graham, who was being followed Tuesday by a TV crew from MSNBC, also cracked several jokes, including, "The American Dream used to be owning your own home. Now it's getting your kids out of your home."
With about $7 million in the bank, Graham has considerably more money than any of his GOP opponents, and recent polls show him far ahead of any of his six primary opponents. He needs at least 50 percent of the vote to win the June 10 primary outright and avoid a runoff June 24.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.