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Sen. Lindsey Graham talks with the East Cooper Republican Club on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Mount Pleasant.File/ Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

One of the long-shot candidates hoping to replace U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in next year's Republican primary is promoting a 2020 slogan with firepower.

"Make Machine Guns Great Again," Second Amendment backer and Marine veteran David Weikle of North Augusta says in a social media hashtag he's promoting.

On his Facebook page, he asks for donations by pleading no amount is too small to help "the Anti-Graham."

"Every single penny of your contributions will be weaponized" against the senator, he said. 

Another of the outliers, entrepreneur and Christian leadership principles teacher Michael LaPierre, promotes the oft-used argument that Graham isn't the Republican he says he is, wiggling from left to right when it's convenient.

“To me, if you peel that onion back, he’s really saying he’s not a true conservative," LaPierre, of Pickens County, told Palmetto Politics. "He’s what I call a 'fake conservative.' "

Another candidate, North Charleston Merchant Marine chief engineer Joe Reynolds, said Graham "is a guy who only wants to be a somebody. He cares about only one thing: Lindsey Graham. He has no record to look back on in pride."

Reynolds' comments came while he was working on a freighter at sea on its way to Antwerp, Rotterdam and Bremerhaven.

The smooth path Graham hoped to follow on his run for a fourth term in the Senate is getting a little bumpy. At least four candidates from the GOP fringes with scant political experience say they plan to challenge South Carolina's senior senator.

That comes as Graham, in the past 24 months, has become even more popular within the greater GOP ranks as a President Donald Trump ally and Senate Judiciary chairman.

None of the four, which also includes Charleston-area retiree and private investigator Peggy Kandies, are anything close to a household name, though Kandies has been outspoken in favor of a hard line on illegal immigration, is against abortion and pro-Trump.

Their bids should make the spring campaign quite the political circus. Even more candidates may come forward, too, as the official filing period doesn't open until March 2020.

If any actually follow through, however, they'll each have to come up with the necessary $10,440 filing fee to get on the S.C. Republican Party primary ballot. 

Having a crowded field of long shots helps Graham more than inconveniences him. His fundraising is sure to benefit, especially nationally as he plays up his desk-pounding support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Still, steps have already been taken to neutralize the chance of any challenger getting significant party traction.

All of the state's eight constitutional officers, from Gov. Henry McMaster on down and all of the state's Republicans in Congress endorsed Graham last month.

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That's a lengthy year-and-a-half out from the November 2020 election where former S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison is the likely opponent.

"I’m proud to support Lindsey’s re-election campaign and urge my fellow South Carolinians to do the same,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said in a Graham campaign blast.

The closest any Republican came in a hypothetical matchup versus Graham in a June Post and Courier-Change Research poll was Greenville businessman John Warren, who took McMaster to a GOP runoff in the 2018 governor's race.

Graham was at 70 percent, Warren at 3 percent and 26 percent were undecided in the survey of 1,183 Republican voters.

Warren could not be reached during the holiday week.

What Graham really wants is for history to repeat itself, such as what happened in his 2014 GOP primary campaign when six mostly untested candidates challenged him by making some of the same claims the current crop is.

Graham crushed them all with 56 percent of the vote.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

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