Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires 2014, 2nd term.
Born: July 9, 1955, Central .
Education: U. of SC, B.A. 1977, J.D. 1981.
Military career: Air Force, 1982–88; SC Air Natl. Guard, 1989–94 (Operation Desert Storm); Air Force Reserves, 1995–present.
Elected office: SC House of Reps., 1992–94; U.S. House of Reps., 1994-2002.
Professional Career: U.S. Air Forces Europe Circuit Trial Counsel, 1984–88; Asst. Oconee Cnty. atty., 1988–92; Practicing atty., 1988–94; Judge advocate, McEntire Air Natl. Guard Base, 1989–94; Central SC city atty., 1990–94.
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator, was elected to the House in 1994 and to the Senate in 2002. Graham grew up in Pickens County, where his parents owned a tavern in the textile mill town of Central, S.C. Both his parents died young, while Graham was still attending the University of South Carolina, and he became his younger sister’s legal guardian. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, and then received a law degree from the University of South Carolina. He was an Air Force prosecutor who worked on assignments overseas, including one case that led to major changes in the service’s drug testing program for soldiers. In 1988, he returned home and practiced law in Seneca, the same town where former Democratic Sen. John Edwards grew up. In 1992, he was elected to the state House. Graham was called up to active duty and served stateside during the Gulf War, and he has been in the Air Force Reserves since 1995, as a senior instructor in the Air Force’s JAG school and also as a reserve judge on the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.
|Lindsey Graham (R)||1,076,534||(58%)||($4,463,619)|
|Bob Conley (D)||790,621||(42%)||($15,202)|
|Lindsey Graham (R)||187,736||(67%)|
|Buddy Witherspoon (R)||93,125||(33%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (54%), 2000 House (68%), 1998 House (100%), 1996 House (60%), 1994 House (60%)
In 1994, with the retirement of 20-year Democratic U.S. Rep. Butler Derrick, Graham ran for the House. Both parties had contested primaries, and Graham won the Republican primary without a runoff with 52% of the vote. In the general election, he faced state Sen. Jim Bryan. Graham called for term limits, supported more defense spending and opposed gays in the military. His attitude toward the Clinton administration and the Democratic leadership was unequivocal. He said, “I’m one less vote for an agenda that makes you want to throw up.” Graham won 60%-40%, a smashing victory in a district represented only by Democrats since Reconstruction. In the House, Graham had a solidly conservative voting record but did not always support the Republican leadership. In the summer of 1997, he was among a small group of junior House members who plotted with some of the senior GOP to try to oust Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who by then had lost the confidence of his Republican troops. But the attempt failed. In a Republican Conference meeting, when Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, one of the plotters, asserted that no member of the leadership was involved, Graham challenged that assertion as false.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Graham played a major role in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In the Senate trial, Graham’s folksy manner and clear description of Clinton’s offenses—“Where I come from, a man who calls someone up at 2:30 in the morning is up to no good”—made him one of the most effective GOP impeachment managers. In 2000, Graham, by then an ally of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was one of McCain’s staunchest supporters in his first bid for the presidency that year.
Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, re-elected to his eighth term in 1996 one month before he turned 94, had promised not to run again in 2002. There had not been an open South Carolina Senate seat since 1941. (Both Thurmond and longtime Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings won their seats by beating incumbent senators appointed to fill vacancies.) Yet in this now heavily Republican state, Graham had no opposition in the Republican primary. His work on impeachment and in the McCain campaign had made him well-known and popular statewide, and he was endorsed by three former governors and Thurmond. Democrats portrayed him as lacking in substance and recruited Alex Sanders, president of the College of Charleston, who had a colorful résumé. Sanders ran off as a teenager and joined the circus and was briefly a juggler and fire-eater. He served in the state Legislature for many years, and in 1985 was appointed to the state Court of Appeals. He was a gifted raconteur, charming and well-connected around the state.
Sanders was a solid fundraiser as well, eventually raising $4.2 million, below Graham’s $5.8 million, but a considerable achievement for a candidate who was consistently behind in the polls. He supported the Bush tax cuts and military action in Iraq. But he opposed the death penalty, on religious grounds, and he opposed a constitutional amendment to allow criminalization of flag burning. Graham hammered him on the death penalty and the flag amendment but most of all tried to label him as a liberal, saying Sanders would advance the agenda of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. “My opponent is a nice guy, but he’s getting Democratic support out the ying-yang,” Graham said. Sanders struck back by emphasizing Graham’s endorsement by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: “He’s an ultraliberal. His wife kicked him out and he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu. Is that South Carolina values? I don’t think so,” he said. But Sanders was put on the defensive by his own comment that South Carolinians could prove they were not racists by voting for him. Trying to explain, he said, “When I said I would show America that we are not ignorant, racist, redneck Dixiecrats, I was referring to the false stereotype many people in the North have of us in South Carolina.”
Graham won 54%-44% and took the place of a senator first elected in the year before he was born. He has had a mostly conservative voting record but has disagreed with the Bush administration on important issues. He voted against the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003 and called for ceilings on the program’s cost. He voted against the Republican medical malpractice bill in 2003 and 2004, calling it “one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever seen.” But he supported the class action bill that passed in February 2005, and co-sponsored a bill requiring that the losing party pays the other side’s legal fees in lawsuits between parties from different states. In 2005, he proposed a federal law shielding reporters from having to disclose their sources in court.
Despite his hard-right rhetoric, Graham proved adept at working across the aisle with Democrats, including Sen. Clinton, with whom he co-sponsored a bill to expand health care for reservists and National Guard troops. “If Senator Clinton is willing to come to the middle to provide better benefits for the military, I will get a car and drive her,” he said. In 2005, he and New York Democrat Charles Schumer sponsored a bill to impose a 27.5% tariff on all Chinese goods until the Chinese government revalues its currency, then tied to the dollar. The Chinese devalued their currency by 2% and suggested that it would periodically be adjusted. Schumer and Graham continued to fight for further concessions from China. Graham’s most prominent collaboration with Democrats was as part of the “Gang of 14,” seven Democrats and seven Republicans who agreed in 2005 not to filibuster judicial nominees except in “extraordinary circumstances.” He voted for Bush Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and supported the high court nomination of Samuel Alito, saying “There’s nothing to suggest that Alito is anything but a solid conservative judge. He’s probably one of the most qualified.”
Graham was harder on the Bush administration over its increasingly bold techniques in terrorism investigations. He objected to surveillance of communications between al Qaeda suspects abroad and persons in the United States, saying in 2006, “When I voted for it, I never envisioned that I was giving to this president or any other president the ability to go around [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] carte blanche.” He was also a critic of the policy of holding unlawful combatants in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without offering them an array of rights. When the Bush administration proposed procedures for trying the detainees, Graham criticized them for not allowing detainees to see all the evidence against them and for defying Geneva Convention protections, although he agreed that such unlawful combatants were not entitled to full Geneva Convention protections. Working with Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and his frequent ally McCain, Graham marshaled his expertise in military law and procedure to produce a bill allowing aggressive and classified interrogation techniques, defining what is a “grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions and establishing military tribunals allowing defendants to confront the evidence against them. The legislation, which passed as part of the 2006 defense spending bill, also prohibited habeas corpus suits by detainees and left up to the Annual Review Board at Guantanamo the amount of time enemy combatants could be held when they are acquitted.
Since his arrival in the Senate, Graham has been interested in solutions to the Social Security solvency issue. In 2003, he unveiled his own plan: 4% personal retirement accounts, with higher taxes for workers who do not choose them. The proposal was sharply criticized by some conservatives, but Graham persisted. He participated in private meetings with both Democratic and Republican senators, and he insisted that raising the payroll tax limit was necessary if a plan was to get Democratic support.
In 2006 and 2007, Graham supported the McCain-Kennedy and Kennedy-Kyl immigration bills, positions which got him in considerable trouble with conservatives who opposed giving illegal immigrants a process to achieve citizenship. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh belittled him as "Lindsey Grahamnesty" and the Greenville County Republican party voted to censure him. Graham's public comments suggesting that immigration bill opponents were “bigots” did not help his cause. He tried to rebound in late 2007 by including a $3 billion border-security amendment in a defense spending bill. It would fund 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and provide additional vehicle barriers and ground censors, but it was stripped from the final version of the bill by Senate Democrats. In December 2007 he joined with Sen. Evan Bayh to support the Indiana Democrat’s legislation to impose higher penalties on people found smuggling illegal immigrants across the border, but the amendment never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.
Graham’s support of the immigration bills and his opposition to the Bush administration on the treatment of unlawful combatants led to efforts to find a primary challenger for 2008. Anti-Graham sentiment eventually coalesced behind retired Lexington orthodontist Buddy Witherspoon, a conservative but a political novice. Witherspoon focused on Graham’s immigration positions, running an ad with a voiceover of Mexican immigrants saying “Muchas gracias, Lindsey Graham!” His campaign slogan was: “Buddy Witherspoon—because Lindsey’s too liberal for South Carolina.” Graham largely ignored Witherspoon’s candidacy, but did ridicule his opponent’s claim that U.S. leaders were secretly creating a North American currency called the Amero with Mexico and Canada. The Witherspoon campaign reported less than $500,000, half of which had come from Witherspoon himself, compared to Graham’s more than $8 million. The June primary wasn’t even close. Graham won 2-to-1, getting 67% of the vote to Witherspoon’s 33%. In the general election, Graham faced Bob Conley, a pilot from Myrtle Beach aligned with the Constitution Party who raised only $17,000. Graham easily won a second term, 58%-42%.
Without much of a threat to his own re-election bid, Graham in 2008 traveled the country with his close friend McCain, the Republican presidential nominee. McCain, Graham and Connecticut independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman formed a sort of bipartisan triumvirate on the campaign trail. Graham’s support was likely helpful to McCain in the pivotal January 2008 South Carolina primary, in which McCain redeemed his 2000 loss by winning with 33% of the vote. The close alliance between Graham and McCain became more evident as the general election wore on. “There’s nobody I trust more than Lindsey Graham,” McCain told the Myrtle Beach Sun-News. Graham said of McCain, “If I make his day better by being someone he can talk to, confide in, have a good laugh with, I am honored to play that role. I enjoy his company.” Graham was said to be among the members of McCain’s inner circle urging him to tap Lieberman as his running mate. But McCain settled on Alaska then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
After McCain’s loss, Graham echoed McCain’s promise to provide bipartisan support for new Democratic President Barack Obama. He supported Obama’s decision to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and even defended Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner after it was revealed Geithner had failed to pay back taxes. Although he had supported the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout legislation in 2008, Graham’s centrist tendencies ceased when it came to Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill in January 2009. He said the legislation “created more government than jobs,” and criticized Obama’s outreach to Republican colleagues. When Republican Gov. Mark Sanford initially said he would refuse South Carolina’s share of the federal stimulus money unless a portion of it could go to pay down state’s debt, Graham said he believed Sanford should accept the money. But he disagreed with the strategy of House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, who called on the state Legislature to bypass Sanford to accept the funds. But on some economic matters, Graham was still the maverick bucking his party. In February 2009, he said he supported a limited nationalization of some banks and Obama’s proposal to “stress-test” banks. “I’m not going to be the Herbert Hoover of 2009, saying ‘Just let the free market work it out,’” he told the Charlotte Observer.