COLUMBIA - U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told members of a conservative family group "the one thing I can say about Barack Obama is that he has been a weak, indecisive commander in chief," as he warned the fear of terror attacks is far from over.
Meanwhile, his Republican primary challengers tried to portray Graham as part of the problem in Washington, saying he is too willing to support liberal judges and too much of a war hawk.
"If you don't make a change in this Senate seat we will have boots on the ground in Syria," warned Lee Bright, a state senator from Spartanburg.
Added Upstate businessman Richard Cash, "I think as Republicans we have to be known as the party of the 'little guy,' not the party for big business, not for bailouts."
The comments came in what was billed as a forum sponsored by the Columbia-based faith organization Palmetto Family. The six Republican candidates who took part never shared the stage before the 300 or so attendees. Instead, they faced a question and answer session that lasted 12 minutes for each.
Direct barbs were few as the candidates all made their traditional stump points.
Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace said Graham has been too long in Washington, losing sight of what should be the his goals as she spoke in favor of term limits. "Nothing is going to change if we send the same people election after election," she said.
Graham did add some levity when he called for more border security to the south with Mexico.
"We're not being overrun by Canadians," he said. "They come to Myrtle Beach and they swim in March."
Friday's session was the first - but not the last gathering - of most all the Senate candidates in front of a live audience. They'll meet again June 7 in a more formal debate to be televised statewide by SC ETV.
Some of the Talking Points from Saturday included:
Columbia pastor Det Bowers said family preservation starts with the recognition the covenant of marriage was created by God.
"Where was marriage started? We didn't dream this up. God did." He then related the creation of Adam and Eve.
"It was created through sacrifice; He took the rib from one and made the two."
Cash added one way to protect families is to ensure liberal judges don't get appointed or approved by the Senate. He has been critical of Graham's support of Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. He forecasted that in the next few years, federal judges will strike down all the state definitions of marriage as between one man and one woman unless there is change.
Bowers favored reducing the size of government. "The larger the federal government, the smaller the citizen," he said. Also, "What we need to do is bring South Carolina's heart to Washington and never bring Washington's heart to South Carolina" because "it will ruin our culture."
Orangeburg lawyer and Afghanistan war veteran Bill Connor said he would abolish the federal Department of Education and shrink other agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I don't care who likes me, whether it's Hillary Clinton or John Kerry," Connor said. "I'm going to go in there and start cutting down these departments to the size they should be."
Graham said the world remains a dangerous place compounded by President Obama's announced withdrawal times from Afghanistan. "They don't mind dying," Graham said of emboldened terrorists. "Dying is first prize for these people. So bring on the virgins."
Connor said Graham erred when he and Sen. John McCain traveled to Egypt during that country's post-democratic election upheaval.
"Sen. Graham made a terrible mistake getting involved in that situation," he said.
Bright said one reason he opposes amnesty is that it will dilute the conservative vote as newcomers seek to join the entitlement state.
"I wish we showed the compassion to the veteran that we showed to the illegal immigrant," he said.
Cash said creating a path to citizenship rather than enforcing current law would actually make the immigration numbers explode since it would create "an incentive for the next wave of illegal immigrants."
"Sen. Graham is almost always on the other side of these very important issues," Mace said.
One of the Republicans on the ballot for Graham's seat, Columbia lawyer Benjamin Dunn, did not participate. Democrat Jay Stamper also took part in the forum, even as it was an overwhelmingly Republican crowd.
Stamper has pretty much been shunned by the Democratic Party leadership, which earlier this week endorsed state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, for the party nomination. The primaries for both parties are June 10.