SUMTER, SC — Members of the TEA Party don't much like South Carolina's senior senator. Locally and nationally, Lindsey Graham has earned a reputation among some Tea Partiers for being insufficiently conservative, with the senator's advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform in particular earning him the nickname Lindsey Grahamnesty.
Richard Cash hopes that displeasure among the conservative base will open a path for a challenger to knock off Graham in next year's Republican Senate primary. The Upstate businessman and former congressional candidate has jumped into the race early and made a stop at the Sumter TEA Party on Thursday to make his case for a change.
"Lindsey Graham too often acts like what I call a Republicrat, somebody who's always looking for the middle of the road," Cash told the group. "But the middle of the road is where you get run over."
Instead, the challenger told the crowd at the Sumter Elks Lodge, he looks for inspiration to more Tea Party-friendly senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Cash sought political office for the first time in 2010, when he was one of six Republicans seeking an open seat in the 3rd Congressional District. Despite starting with limited name recognition, Cash credits aggressive campaigning and word of mouth about his socially conservative platform with earning him a place in the second-round primary runoff with eventual winner Jeff Duncan.
In that race, the Anderson County native used the slogan "Faith, Family and Freedom." On Thursday night, he structured his speech around what he called the Three Cs capitalism, Christianity and the Constitution. Cash believes these tenets of America's heritage are under attack, citing "judicial activism" on the Supreme Court to the failure of a vote in the House of Representatives this week to limit the National Security Agency's monitoring of Americans' phone calls.
"We're moving from capitalism to socialism," he said. "We're moving from a Judeo-Christian heritage to a secular culture. And we're moving from a constitutional republic with a limited government and the rule of law to a big government with centralized power and the rule of men, where whoever's in charge forces their power onto the public."
Although he is currently the only declared candidate challenging Graham, Cash said he doesn't expect the 2014 Senate race to stay a contest only between the incumbent and himself.
"I didn't think three months in I'd still be the only candidate," he said. "I'm sure there are others making phone calls and raising money, going about their campaigns in a more conventional way, and then they will announce when they want to."
But Cash welcomes others getting into the race because he thinks it will create more pressure on Graham in the primary and boost whoever comes out on top of the challengers.
"Having a number of challengers will possibly help keep Lindsey under 50 percent," he said. "If he's held under 50 percent and it goes to a runoff, anything can happen. I expect for most people, if he's not their first choice, are not going to vote for him in a runoff."
To ensure he's the one who makes the runoff, Cash is hoping to grow his grassroots support across the state through appearances such as his talk to the TEA Party. Cash credits a similar strategy with propelling his first-time campaign in the 3rd District to a place in the runoff.
The candidate also said he learned from that campaign how to organize a run for office and that polish showed in the promotional campaign video he played for the crowd and the signs printed with "Replace Lindsey" he had available for any newfound supporters.
Cash found a receptive audience Thursday, where dislike of the incumbent senator was taken as a given by most of his listeners.
"I believe in everything he said about the founding of our country, the Founding Fathers and how we've traveled away from our original intent," Bill Smith said of Cash after the meeting. "I'm very frustrated with what our politicians have done. We elect them in good faith hoping they'll represent us, and I don't believe Lindsey Graham has done that."
TEA Partiers also heard from another Senate hopeful Thursday. Sumter native Champ Edmunds is running in his adopted state of Montana to replace outgoing Democrat Max Baucus, and told the hometown crowd he would take support from wherever he could get it.
"You might say, 'Why should I care about Montana?'" said Edmunds, who serves in the Montana Legislature. "But Montana could swing the majority our way, and South Carolina can't. It's a chance to pick up a seat." Edmunds might have picked up the technique Cash encouraged the crowd to adopt of locally focused activism to promote statewide change.
"You just worry about winning Sumter County," Cash said. "And I'll find another group of people to win in Greenwood and Greenville and Oconee and everywhere else."