COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is heading into his re-election campaign with a slate of endorsements from state Republicans, a strong position he hasn’t always enjoyed.
Graham’s campaign has told The Associated Press that all eight of South Carolina’s statewide-elected officers plan to publicly endorse him Wednesday. The list includes Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette.
The support is a show of Republican force for Graham, who in the past has faced challengers from the right who said he’s not conservative enough to represent deeply red South Carolina and he’s too willing to work with congressional Democrats.
But thanks in part to his strengthened relationship with President Donald Trump, Graham has become a new darling of the GOP, campaigning for candidates throughout the country in 2018. After Trump stood by his side for the kickoff to his own re-election bid Tuesday night, Graham flew to Florida that night with the president. He flew back to Washington with Vice President Mike Pence, who helped Graham launch his 2020 campaign earlier this year.
Graham’s relationship with the administration hasn’t always been so cozy. When he sought the White House in 2016, Graham called Trump “a kook” and “unfit for office” and said he would be “the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” Trump, in turn, painted Graham as wishy-washy and even reading out Graham’s personal cellphone number to a room full of supporters and reporters.
Graham ultimately said he would back neither Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election, saying the Republican Party had been “conned.”
Over the last year, though, Graham’s relationship with Trump and the GOP in general has evolved. Graham and Trump have become frequent partners for golf outings, which Graham says has shown him Trump can be both “charming and gracious.” After Graham’s fiery defense of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, South Carolina Republican activists who had at times questioned his motives embraced him.
So far, Graham faces two primary challengers. Jaime Harrison, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, is his chief Democratic opponent.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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