In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Defeated Graham Challenger: He Only Moves To The Right For Re-election

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AP Photo / Charles Dharapak

"The only time he moves to the right is when it's an election. That's the only time he moves to the right," Dr. Walter "Buddy" Witherspoon, who garnered about a third of the vote against Graham, told TPM on Tuesday.

According to Witherspoon, legislation like Graham's bill allowing states to opt-out of Obamacare are just thinly veiled moves to protect himself from a conservative primary challenger.

"He did this opt-out of Obamacare. That was a political ploy, it was a ploy at the time. It was pretty evident," Witherspoon said.

And then there's immigration.

"I don't think you hear him talking about things like immigration around elections," Witherspoon said. "Not around South Carolina."

"He doesn't have anything to worry about until six years down the road and then as it gets closer he mellows some toward the election and does what he has to do," he continued. "It's a political ploy ... and it's working for him."

To an outside observer, Graham's strong and consistent lead through the primary might seem baffling. He's committed the cardinal Republican primary sins of pushing immigration reform, floated support for climate change legislation, praised Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of State, and also backed some of President Barack Obama's nominees for the Supreme Court. From all that it would appear Graham wanted a primary challenger. He got plenty too. But none of Graham's challengers have been able to gain any real traction and the incumbent senator has been able to amass an impressive war chest of $11 million. Thus the comparisons of Graham to teflon.

Graham has been able to slip past any rough patches thanks to strong support from establishment Republicans as well as seemingly relentless attacks on the Obama administration (especially Benghazi).

Graham's biggest worry now is if he can get the 50 percent-plus-one vote to avoid a runoff election or not. Even if he is forced into a runoff, Graham is still expected to have a strong chance of winning re-election.

What was frustrating about running against Graham, Witherspoon said, is that the stars just seemed to align in his favor around the right time.

"For instance with the immigration issue, it was a hot issue. All of the sudden about a month before the primary it cooled down," Witherspoon said.

Part of the reason Graham has been able to comfortably stay ahead of the rest of the GOP primary field is they are all fighting for the same group of anti-Graham supporters, Witherspoon said. Meanwhile Graham can enjoy a broad pool of establishment Republicans who support whoever the incumbent is.

"Even with six guns pointed on him they still are not hitting the target completely," Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon, 58, said he even considered have challenging Graham himself again this time around and left open the door to it again someday.

"It's just a matter of pulling it all together and the main thing to me was my wife, she just really didn't want me to do it this time," he said.

(Photo credit: Youtube)

About The Author

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Daniel Strauss is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He was previously a breaking news reporter for The Hill newspaper and has written for Politico, Roll Call, The American Prospect, and Gaper's Block. He has also interned at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and The New Yorker. Daniel grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in History. At Michigan he helped edit Consider, a weekly opinion magazine. He can be reached at daniel@talkingpointsmemo.com.