Last week, after intensive calling, emailing, and even threatening by opponents of "amnesty," the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 - a.k.a., comprehensive immigration reform - finally died in the Senate.
For one of the bill's key supporters, Senator Graham (derided as "Grahamnesty" by his critics) of South Carolina, one of the questions in the aftermath of the defeat has to be: If the conservative base could bring this bill down, what could they do to me?
Just a few years ago, Mr. Graham was considered a darling of the conservative base, with his work to impeach Bill Clinton and his assumption of the senate seat held for nearly 50 years by Strom Thurmond in 2003. But those days are long gone. Mr. Graham has progressively begun taking positions that put him out of step with conservatives, even if just slightly. And conservatives are not happy.
Immigration has proven to be the killer issue for Mr. Graham — and the numbers suggest it could well be his ultimate demise. A recent poll conducted in his home state showed that just 21% of voters side with him on the subject, whereas 63% disapprove of his stance. His personal approval rating has plummeted to 31%. Republicans dislike him even more than Democrats — an effect of the continual attacks on him by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, not to mention the proliferation of Web sites demanding his ouster, such as "Dump Lindsey Graham" and "Lindsey Graham Career Countdown."
However, the conservative base's problems with Mr. Graham run deeper than just immigration. Mr. Graham supported campaign finance reform while in the House of Representatives. He blocked President Bush's nomination of Jim Haynes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. And he opposed the president on the questions of military tribunals and aggressive interrogation techniques for alleged terrorists. As a result, even before his status as an "amnesty supporter" became known, Mr. Graham was attracting labels like "Republican In Name Only," and "squish" — despite the fact that his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, as of 2006, was 90% (a higher lifetime rating than that of Minority Leader McConnell and former senator and conservative poster-boy Rick Santorum).
On paper, at least, Mr. Graham doesn't look a thing like a moderate Republican. But Republicans in South Carolina, where nearly 40% of voters in the 2004 senate race described themselves as conservative, don't seem to be noticing.
For months now, the search has been on for a primary challenger to Mr. Graham — ideally, someone who looks much more like South Carolina's ultraconservative junior senator. However, thus far, those hunting for a Republican — any Republican — willing to take on Senator Grahamnesty have been striking out.
Hopes that Governor Sanford would primary Mr. Graham fizzled early. State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel had confirmed, even before his recent drug bust, that he would not challenge Mr. Graham. And, with limited time left to get a campaign underway, no prominent or well-placed Republicans seem to be stepping forward— although some locals who oppose Mr. Graham are hoping that Rep. J. Gresham Barrett will jump in.
Likewise, to date, Democrats have failed to attract a single candidate willing to take on Mr. Graham, who despite his unpopularity with conservatives, remains one of the best-funded Republican incumbents running in 2008.
For now, as improbable as it may seem, Mr. Graham seems to be sitting pretty and headed for re-election.