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Lindsey Graham

Charleston County Republicans fought among themselves Monday night before deciding to issue a "censure" of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for not being Republican enough.

The vote was immediately criticized by Republican National Committeewoman Cindy Costa as "foolish" on the eve of an election.

"Terrible. It's a dumb thing to do," said Costa, who did not take part in the vote but said precedent is being set to now "censure" Republican politicians any time they stray in the slightest.

The censure document, running to about 30 points taken from Graham's two terms in the Senate, covered a variety of Graham criticisms, ranging from supporting President Obama's Supreme Court nominees to cooperating with Democrats. Similar censure votes have been considered in other counties around the state, pressed by Graham opponents. Still, they have no weight of force and are more considered to be debated statements of disapproval.

The 39-32 vote among the county executive committee was done by secret ballot and with limited discussion.

Supporters of the resolution said they wanted to make a statement. "I want my politicians to be more conservative," said Tom Sheridan of James Island.

"He really represents the establishment and the 'usual' in Washington," added Cameron Groen of Johns Island, who said he wanted Charleston County Republicans to "distance" themselves from Graham.

Those who opposed the vote questioned the timing and target. "If anyone wants to read my vote it's a 'no,'" former party Chairman Mark Hartley told the crowd after putting his ballot in the voting box.

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Others said their opinions were better suited for airing at the voting booth in the June 10 Republican primary where Graham faces six challengers. "I was under the impression the primary was where we choose our candidates," said Charleston County Register of Mesne Conveyence Charlie Lybrand.

Challenging Graham in the GOP primary are Columbia minister Det Bowers, state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg; Upstate businessman Richard Cash; Orangeburg lawyer Bill Connor; Columbia lawyer Benjamin Dunn; and Lowcountry businesswoman Nancy Mace.

After the vote Graham's campaign issued a statement.

"Sen. Graham is focused on taking his conservative message directly to the 20,000 Republicans in Charleston County who are expected to vote in the GOP primary on June 10," said spokesman Tate Zeigler, who criticized the secretive nature of the ballot and called it a "shame" the party leadership couldn't "wait 28 days to allow the thousands of Republican voters in Charleston County to have their say."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551