Once again, Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was censured by county GOP leaders in his home state. This time, though, the rebuke wasn't as cut and dry.
Some in the Lexington County GOP complained the censure wasn't on the agenda and came as a surprise after some had left the meeting. The executive committee's 13-7 vote late Monday made the county the second to censure Graham in about two months, but this wasn't like the unanimous decision by Charleston County.
The resolution cited Graham's stances on immigration, climate change and the bank bailout. Two years earlier, Greenville County Republicans censured him for immigration.
"They've begun to stack up. When you get one in Lexington if I were him, I would view that with some degree of alarm," said Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen. "Lexington is the Vatican City of Republicanism in this state."
However, he questioned its sway, noting Graham was re-elected last year with 58 percent of the vote, and there's five more years before re-election.
At a news conference Tuesday, Graham defended his record and downplayed the censure, characterizing it as the result of a small group of fringe activists who support libertarian-leaning congressman Ron Paul. He said he is working on building a political party, not an exclusive club.
"I'm proud of my social and fiscal conservatism," Graham said. "I'm a Republican who will reach across the aisle and solve problems."
The six-paragraph resolution said Graham's support for action on climate change "reiterates his support for government intervention in the private sector in direct contradiction of the Republican principle of free markets."
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Talbert Black, of Lexington, believes Graham has tried to marginalize him and others, noting a comment the senator made in October that the GOP does not want to limit itself as a party of angry white men.
"When you have somebody so willing to compromise with those who aren't conservative, and belittles those who are conservative, we need to do something about that," said Black, the state coordinator of Campaign for Liberty, a group dedicated to personal liberty and fiscal conservatism that spawned after Paul's 2008 presidential campaign.
As precinct president, Black proposed the resolution while filling in for a committeeman.
The resolution faults Graham for voting for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Those opposing censure noted the Bush administration pushed that $700 billion financial bailout.
Other county GOP officials said the 13 "yes" votes don't represent the larger county organization.
"I don't think Sen. Graham's critics give him credit for the many strong conservative positions he's leading on," said Tony Denny, an executive committee member who cited Graham's opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay and Democrats' health care plan. "I think they were cherry-picking things they're upset about."
Denny got to the meeting in time to vote after getting a text message at his son's basketball game. He also noted that Graham has said he's working on the so-called cap and trade legislation in an effort to help craft legislation that would bring jobs to South Carolina, with a push for nuclear energy, alternative energy and offshore drilling for natural gas.
"I believe he's going in the same direction, but I think they'd rather be angry than try to accomplish something," Denny said. "To blast him on something he's trying to improve upon is premature and not an appropriate role for our party to be in."
A spokesman for state GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd said the censure means nothing more than some people in local parties are upset.
The censures of Graham are a stark difference to conservatives' treatment of South Carolina's other senator, Republican Jim DeMint, whose national profile has grown since he predicted last summer the health care legislation could be Obama's "Waterloo moment" that could break his presidency.
DeMint has "gained popularity among the more shrill, ultraconservative Republicans," Thigpen said. "As a player in the policy making process, Graham has been able to maintain himself. He's the more serious legislator, but in terms of pronouncements, here recently, Demint has stepped out of Lindsey's shadow and staked out a persona in his own right."