Graham also has been intense in opposing Hagel, portraying the former GOP senator as an out-of-the-mainstream radical. Some of the toughest questions of Hagel during his confirmation hearing last month came from Graham, who seized on Hagel’s ‘‘Jewish lobby’’ remark and asked him to ‘‘name one dumb thing we've been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli, Jewish lobby.’’
Hagel was often tentative in his response in the face of GOP grilling.
‘‘He’s leading, he’s governing,’’ Glenn McCall, the chairman of the York (S.C.) County Republican Party and a GOP committeeman, said of Graham. ‘‘More and more I talk to Republicans — and even those that are conservative Democrats — I think folks are looking for leadership.’’
Both Tompkins and McCall cited a Winthrop University poll released last week that showed Graham with strong support from registered Republicans in the state, with 72 percent holding a favorable opinion of the senator.
It’s a turnaround from several years ago when Graham’s work with Democrats on climate change and immigration as well as his votes for Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court angered South Carolina Republicans, with some calling him out of touch and Charleston and Lexington counties voting to censure him over his bipartisan work.
‘‘It might be the right thing to do ... but when you partner with Hillary Clinton or you partner with John Kerry, you’re going to be looked upon with a lot of suspicion in South Carolina,’’ Tompkins said. ‘‘You have to be careful who you dance with.’’
Kerry, a former Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has just replaced Clinton as secretary of state.
Graham still may face a primary challenge, but he and other GOP incumbents are determined to head off any conservative uprising as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch successfully did in his 2012 race. They want to avoid the fate of the only GOP primary loser last year — Indiana’s longtime Sen. Dick Lugar.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican and a candidate next year, took the lead on the Senate floor to block a vote on Hagel on Feb. 14 and was one of 15 Republicans last week to call for Obama to withdraw the nomination.
Cornyn got a primary challenger last week.
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