Senate hopeful courts Republicans

Buddy Witherspoon

Buddy Witherspoon, a former Republican National Committee member who hopes to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham in November, swept through the Lowcountry Saturday to speak with Republican groups in Berkeley and Charleston counties.

With only a couple of weeks left before the filing period for the Senate contest, Witherspoon said he wanted to engage voters before the race heats up heading into the June 10 Republican primary.

A Lexington orthodontist, Witherspoon said he's running because he thinks Graham is not providing enough constituent service and that the Republican incumbent is "too liberal" on issues such as immigration. But he stopped short of applying that same political label to Graham's close friend and political ally, likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

Graham and McCain split with many conservatives in their support of President Bush's failed immigration proposal. Graham also played a key role in McCain's S.C. primary victory in January.

But Witherspoon suggested that Graham's alignment with the Arizona senator could be a liability in the upcoming Senate race.

Witherspoon declined to say which GOP candidate he supported, but if McCain should become the next president, "there's a good chance (Graham) could be considered for something and he could step down," he said.

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Graham's campaign manager, Scott Farmer, called the suggestion flattering, but said it probably won't happen. "It's an honor to be thought of for any type of position, but it's unlikely," Farmer said. "Senator Graham is focused on his job in the Senate and his re-election campaign."

Farmer also defended Graham's conservative credentials, noting that the American Conservative Union found that Graham voted the conservative position an average of 90 percent of the time in the U.S. Senate.

Still, Graham's support of the immigration bill is likely to remain a focus of Witherspoon's campaign, which made a splash in January when it released a TV ad lambasting Graham over a bill that some said would give amnesty to illegal immigrants. In the ad, Spanish-speaking people stepped over a fence at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying "Muchas gracias, Lindsey Graham."

Others said to be considering a run for the seat include former Myrtle Beach mayor Mark McBride, Travelers Rest banking consultant Tim Carnes, Summerville businessman John Cina and Mount Pleasant attorney Michael Cone.