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How Lindsey Graham keeps beating them all

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  June 9, 2014 at 9:10 AM EST
Photo by Department of Defense

The South Carolina Republican senator appears poised to cruise to a primary victory Tuesday against six challengers. Photo by Department of Defense

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • He’s a top tea party target in a conservative state, but Lindsey Graham is expected to cruise Tuesday
  • Eric Cantor’s challenge from the right and what it means for immigration reform
  • Democrats still annoyed with White House over Bergdahl
  • Obama’s student loan push
  • Clinton’s reintroduction tour begins

Graham avoids serious primary challenge: Mention Lindsey Graham’s name at a tea party rally, and the boos rain down. But despite angering some conservatives with his support for matters ranging from comprehensive immigration reform to President Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court, the South Carolina Republican senator appears in position to cruise to a primary victory Tuesday against six challengers. A Clemson University Palmetto Poll released last week showed Graham with 49 percent support among likely GOP primary voters, just shy of the 50 percent mark he would need to avoid a runoff. None of Graham’s opponents surpassed single digits in the survey. “If I had to bet the farm, I would have to bet that Graham is going to get through unscathed,” Clemson University political scientist David Woodard, a veteran GOP consultant and director of the Palmetto Poll told the Morning Line. Graham has benefitted from a significant cash advantage, having raised more than $6 million. He was sitting on nearly $4 million late last month while none of his challengers had more than $250,000 left in the bank.

Opposition ‘deep but not wide’: Still, nine different local Republican Party groups have censured Graham in recent years. The list includes Charleston County, considered a Graham stronghold, and Greenville County, which outlined 29 actions or votes by the senator that it deemed “fundamentally inconsistent” with the principles of the South Carolina GOP. But observers say Graham’s detractors and primary opponents have struggled to gain traction. “The opposition to Lindsey Graham is deep, but not wide,” Republican consultant Joel Sawyer of Push Digital told the Morning Line. “There is a very fractured field of very weak challengers. The people challenging him have divided up the anti-Lindsey support.” But Sawyer also notes that Graham has done what he needed to do. “He’s been out on the stump, interacting with voters one-on-one. People sometimes forget he’s a very good retail politician. And he’s waging a strong air war.” Graham’s closing television ad highlights the issues where he has challenged the Obama administration, including the health care law, approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and the investigation of the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Different dynamic from Mississippi: There are a number of reasons why Graham is likely to avoid the fate of six-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who is in a fight for his political life in Mississippi. For one, Graham has spent 20 years in Congress, which is a far cry from the 42 years Cochran has served. But he also was aided by the fact that he didn’t have a single opponent like Chris McDaniel in Mississippi who was able to coalesce the anti-incumbent vote. Another difference from Mississippi: there has been very little outside spending in South Carolina. “For whatever reason these third-party conservative Washington groups have been very reluctant to challenge Graham publicly,” Sawyer said. “Maybe it’s just a matter of picking your battles. The groups that have been critical of his voting record, they’ve shown great reluctance to put their money where their mouth is.” All of these factors combined make it likely Graham will score a clear win Tuesday, setting him up well for reelection in November.

Cantor’s challenge: Another race to watch Tuesday is the primary challenge to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. By all accounts, Cantor, R-Va., is expected to win, but not without having to work a bit. His campaign put out an internal poll over the weekend showing him up 62 percent to 28 percent over tea party challenger Dave Brat, a college economics professor who has gotten the support of several national talk-radio hosts. Cantor drawing a challenge is yet another example of a Republican having to watch their right flank because of openness to doing anything on immigration reform. NewsHour’s Rachel Wellford traveled to Cantor’s district over the weekend and found some loud rumblings of anti-Cantor sentiment, but found others who were supportive. Brat told NewsHour he sees himself as Cantor’s “term limit” and says his challenge is “nothing personal,” but, “It’s just I don’t see what he’s doing on immigration.” Watch for the full story later today on our website.

Obama vs. Congress on Bergdahl — no ‘publicity’ required: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., went on Face the Nation and called the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap a “mixed bag,” was critical of the White House’s lack of consultation before this move and swatted at Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that if the five released Taliban member get involved in fighting again, they could be killed. “You can’t help but worry about them in Doha,” Feinstein said. “And we have no information on how the United States is actually going to see that they remain in Doha, that they make no comments, that they do no agitation.” Asked why he didn’t inform key members of Congress beforehand, President Obama told NBC’s Brian Williams Friday, “We had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity.” This president has always viewed Congress as something of a sieve. But that comment wasn’t going to go over well with members of his own party on the Hill, who already feel like the White House doesn’t keep them in the loop. This is what happens when you don’t at least give a heads up to important people in your own party. They get upset and go on Sunday shows and create a PR mess.

Democrats’ student loan push — another week, another key constituency: President Obama speaks at 1:45 pm EDT on student loan debt. (He does a Tumblr Q&A tomorrow). He will announce executive action to cap student loan repayments at 10 percent for those who borrowed between 2007 and 2011, per the White House. Like he did in his weekly address, the president will also point to Congress and endorse Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., proposed legislation that would allow students to refinance their loans. “Congress needs to do its part,” the president said. “The good news is that Senate Democrats are working on a bill that would help more young people save money.” And touching on a 2012 campaign note, he said, “And we’d pay for it by closing loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.” It’s yet another attempt by the White House to get young voters to support Democrats in this midterm. As we’ve outlined previously, young voters are one of the most important to Democrats, but show some of the biggest drop offs in voter participation in midterms. “President Obama declared 2014 a year of action — vowing to use the power of his pen and phone to help ensure that hardworking Americans have the opportunity to succeed,” a White House official told Morning Line. “And this coming week will be no different.”

Clinton tour week: As we previewed Friday, Hillary Clinton’s book tour — and political reintroduction — kicks off this week with the release of her book, “Hard Choices,” Tuesday. Clinton’s interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer airs tonight, then she will be on Good Morning America live Tuesday morning. ABC previewed the interview Sunday with Clinton saying she’s likely to announce her intentions on whether to run for president next year, which is what was already expected. “I’m not positive about that,” Clinton said, “but the way I make decisions, that is probably likely.”After that it’s a packed schedule, as Time noted, “Clinton will kick off the book tour with a stop at the Union Square Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City, followed by a paid speech to the United Fresh Produce Association and Food Marketing Institute in her hometown of Chicago. On Wednesday morning, she will be interviewed by a former aide to both her husband and Mr. Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The subsequent days will take her from Toronto to Austin, and next week she will tape a town-hall-style event airing on CNN at the Newseum in Washington. At no fewer than eight locations, she will be trailed by the Ready for Hillary bus and its volunteers.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1998, President Clinton declared a “national emergency” due to the threat to the U.S. imposed by Yugoslavia and Serbia over the Kosovo War. Who was the leader of Yugoslavia at the time? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Larry Herbert (‏@hebert64) for guessing Friday’s trivia: President Jackson was the first U.S. president to ride in a train. Where did he go? The answer was: Baltimore.

LINE ITEMS

  • Some bad news for Iowa’s Bruce Braley and national Democrats: In the first live-caller poll since the primary, state Sen. Joni Ernst leads Braley by six points, 48 percent to 42 percent, per Loras College. This isn’t seen as a “gold-standard” poll the way Selzer is, but with the conventional wisdom having been that this was a lean-Democrat race, it is worth watching what other polls show, because if this race is seriously in play for Republicans, that will severely complicate Democrats’ chances at threading the needle to hold the Senate.
  • State Sen. Chris McDaniel leads 51 to 48 percent over Sen. Thad Cochran in a new poll on the Mississippi runoff.
  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN Sunday he believes the administration should have exchanged different prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the prisoner swap was a “serious geopolitical mistake” on ABC’s This Week.
  • The New York Times reports that Bergdahl told medical officials in Germany he was tortured and held in a cage after trying to escape his Taliban captors.
  • Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer is launching a $2 million disaster relief fund for victims of extreme weather events he says are caused by climate change, including wildfires in Western states.
  • Steyer may portray himself as a passionate environmentalist, but his conversion from a hedge fund manager with oil and gas investments came late, and, as the Washington Post reports, his divestment from fossil fuels is still not complete.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, overshadowed fellow Republicans Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the GOP convention in Texas over the weekend.
  • For a state with only 490,000 registered voters, the New York Times takes a closer look at the extraordinary rise of outside money in Alaska’s Senate contest, where $20 million worth of ads have been reserved so far. That’s more than has been spent in any other state on booking commercial air time through Election Day.
  • Rand Paul continues to tour the country this summer to try and expand the Republican base to include young voters and minorities.
  • Former lobbyist Ed Gillespie was named the Republican nominee for Senate at the GOP convention in Roanoke, Virginia, on Saturday. Gillespie will face former governor and one-term Senator Mark Warner.
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Rep. Jack Kingston’s top contributions for his Senate bid come from companies linked to a felon whom the U.S. has been trying to deport. Kingston has since returned thousands in donations.
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.,
    introduced a bill that will allow families to take guns away from “someone who poses a risk of committing violence.”
  • The United States Postal Service is supporting a plan from House Republicans that would use the money saved by eliminating Saturday mail deliveries to fund highway projects.
  • The Justice Department wants to require state and local election administrators to locate at least one polling station on tribal land, in a place selected by the tribal government, if part of that land falls within their election territory.
  • The surprise resignation of a Democratic state lawmaker in Virginia gives Republicans a sudden edge against Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to expand Medicaid, but the Washington Post reports that State Sen. Phillip Puckett is resigning in a deal to guarantee a judgeship appointment for his daughter and the job of deputy director of the state’s tobacco commission for himself.
  • Seven couples sued North Dakota over its ban on same-sex marriage Friday. North Dakota was the only remaining state to have its ban go unchallenged.
  • A federal judge on Friday struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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