NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Sen. Lindsey Graham's (search) role in a compromise on filibusters against President Bush's judicial picks did not go over well with some GOP regulars in this Republican state.
The first-term Republican, who in 2002 succeeded Strom Thurmond (search), was among 14 lawmakers — seven from each party — who abandoned their leaders and reached a deal among themselves. They agreed to confirm some of Bush's stalled federal court nominees while leaving the door open for rejecting others.
"It's one of the hottest issues I've seen since I've been chairman," said Katon Dawson (search), South Carolina's GOP chairman for three years. "There was a lot of heartburn inside the base of the Republican Party. President Bush won 70 percent of the counties in the United States and people wanted his agenda moved forward."
Hundreds of people have called state Republican headquarters to complain about Graham's participation in the negotiations. Graham's role has given Charleston businessman Thomas Ravenel further reason to consider a primary challenge to Graham in 2008.
Ravenel, the son of a former congressman, finished third in a crowded field in last year's race for South Carolina's other Senate seat, now held by Republican Jim DeMint.
Ravenel does not like Graham's positions on trade and objects to the senator's Social Security proposal to increase payroll taxes on those earning more than $90,000.
"He has long since offended the fiscal conservatives," Ravenel said. "More recently he has offended the other Republican coalition — the social conservatives."
Those same social conservatives were instrumental in derailing Arizona Sen. John McCain's "straight talk express" bid for the presidency five years ago in South Carolina's GOP primary.
In 2000 Graham supported McCain, a driving force behind the filibuster deal two weeks ago. By 2002, however, Graham had mended his fences with President Bush's supporters.
"Some people said they did not intend to have two John McCains in Washington, D.C., when they voted for Lindsey Graham," said Beaufort County GOP Chairman Doug Robertson.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Graham was confident he would weather the storm.
"This state respects senators who are independent, who share their conservative values and who treat their colleagues with respect," he said. "I'm not going to conduct myself in a way where I'm the loudest guy and I'm not going to be satisfied with rhetoric that gins up a small group of people."
Graham said the deal gives the Senate a fresh start and allows lawmakers to consider some of Bush's judicial nominations. Changing the approach to filibusters is still on the table if the compromise fails, he said.
But even in his home county, some people said Graham's role in the negotiations was out of order, according to Oconee County GOP Chairman Ed Rumsey.
"They wanted him to stand firm and have an up-or-down vote on every candidate," Rumsey said. Still, he added: "Lindsey Graham is our hometown guy. We're going to stand by him."
In strongly Republican Lexington County, most people thought the compromise was "typical Lindsey," said Tim Miller, the county's GOP chairman. "He said: 'Look, we can't allow something like this to bog down the country. We need to do what's best for America."'
South Carolinian Roberta Combs, president of the national Christian Coalition, said the compromise was not what the conservative group wanted.
"What people were upset about and what I was upset about was these judges had been waiting so long and you couldn't get them to the floor," she said.
But she does not think Graham's base is damaged.
"In politics a day is forever. Only time will tell," she said. "I don't think this is going to hurt Lindsey because he is strong on defense and supports the president on the war and has been a team player."
Doug Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist who often serves as a Republican consultant, said Graham always has had an independent streak and a flair for attracting attention.
"He's got the best political instincts of anyone I have ever seen," Woodard said. He noted that Graham won, without any primary opposition, the GOP nomination for Thurmond's seat, which had been coveted by South Carolina politicians for decades.
Graham said that while some people will disagree with the compromise, he and most Republicans want to achieve the same thing — getting more conservative judges on the bench.
"For some people in politics it's not enough to agree with them on the issue, you have to hate the people they hate," he said. "I'm not going to be a hater. I'm going to be a solid conservative and a reformer."