SC’s Libertarian Republicans Take Aim at Chairman, Graham

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— South Carolina Republican leaders say they are like a family – and, like families, they sometimes fight.

The GOP’s libertarian faction on Saturday played the role of the cousins tired of always sitting at the table outside the dining room, shouting protests during the S.C. Republican Party convention at Carolina Coliseum.

Their main targets were U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, whom they view as too willing to compromise on important issues, and state GOP chairman Chad Connelly, who they think could have prevented the court-ordered removal of Republican candidates from last year’s primary ballots over a paperwork glitch.

The mixed feelings of party faithful over former Gov. Mark Sanford’s return to politics also were on display.

Sanford did not attend the convention, spending the day campaigning in the Lowcountry ahead of his Tuesday contest against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the 1st District congressional special election. However, Sanford’s campaign had a phone bank operating in the coliseum lobby that was sparsely attended, even after a plea for volunteers.

Gov. Nikki Haley did not mention Sanford, her one-time mentor, when she talked about the congressional race in her convention speech. Instead, Haley used the race to tout the state’s new voter ID law.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the 1st District race is a tossup – an assessment in line with recent polls – because some Republican voters, disaffected by Sanford’s divorce and a trespassing allegation at his ex-wife’s house, will stay away from the polls Tuesday.

“He just wasn’t the strongest candidate that the Republicans could have put up,” said McConnell, adding that Sanford came back to politics too soon.

But Sanford received support from other party brass.

Connelly told the convention’s 2,000 delegates that the S.C. GOP has spent $250,000 to aid Sanford’s campaign.

Graham urged delegates to help elect Sanford and keep the seat out of Democratic hands. “(House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi wants that seat,” Graham said, adding, “Nancy, you can’t have it.”

But more noise – literally – was made by the attempts of GOP libertarians to be heard at the convention.

From the back of the coliseum floor, they shouted at convention chairman, state Rep. Alan Clemmons of Horry County, early when votes did not go their way. Clemmons told the shouters to hand their credentials to alternate delegates if they would not quiet down.

Talbert Black, a former state Tea Party leader now running a libertarian political action committee, gathered dissenters in the lobby before the convention to discuss why they should oppose Connelly. The Newberry businessman was running for a second two-year term as state party chairman.

“Chad talks a good talk,” Black said. “But the things that actually made a difference with S.C. government, he’s not done.”

But Connelly was re-elected overwhelmingly over former Greenville County GOP chairmen Sam Harms and Stephen Brown, both of whom blamed Connelly for the party’s rising debt and last year’s ballot debacle.

“If we listen to division, we will cease to exist,” Connelly said in his nomination speech. “Not on my watch.”

Graham, who is up for re-election in 2014, received a smattering of boos when he was introduced. And when Graham raised the issue of immigration in his speech to the convention, there were shouts of “no amnesty.”

Graham tried to disarm critics of his immigration compromise by reminding them that they have a common foe – Democrats. He also told the delegates the GOP suffers because it cannot attract minority voters, many of whom share the same traditional views as Republicans about same-sex marriage and abortion.

Before he spoke to the convention, Graham said he and libertarians often agree on issues.

“I look at it that if I agree with you seven or eight times out of 10, I’m your friend,” he said. “Some people in politics are looking for the one or two times you disagree. I’m not that way. Ronald Reagan was not that way. I’m not going to try to be a fraud.”

With $5.4 million in his campaign coffers, Graham does not now have a major challenger in 2014. However, Richard Cash, an Upstate businessman who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, had a booth at the convention boosting his candidacy for the GOP Senate nomination. His signs said “Replace Lindsey!”

Nancy Mace, who runs a public relations firm and is the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, has been mentioned as a possible Graham opponent. Mace, who attended the convention, has not made a final decision about a run.

Some Republicans, including libertarian Black, continue to seek a Graham challenger.

“He’s got to be challenged and whether the challenger wins or not is besides the point,” Black said. “Whoever challenges him needs to go ahead and run hard now. No more messing around. They need to start raising money.”

The libertarians’ protests diminished as the convention wore on. Opponents made little noise when Connelly was re-elected.

Former S.C. chairman Karen Floyd told delegates that, despite fighting like a family, “We will walk out of here united.”

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