COLUMBIA, SC — Is Jim DeMint targeting U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for defeat in 2014?
The former U.S. senator from Greenville, who resigned on New Years Day to lead a conservative Washington-based think tank, and fellow Republican Graham occasionally voted against each other while in the Senate. But they rarely criticized each other in public.
But Tuesday, the Senate Conservatives Fund the political action committee that DeMint founded in 2008 released a radio ad in South Carolina criticizing Graham for recently saying that voting to defund the Affordable Care Act was a bridge too far.
The Senate funds leaders have been critical of Graham before, including when the Seneca Republican voted for an immigration reform bill earlier this year. But Tuesday was the first time the fund ever has spent money on an ad criticizing Graham in his home state.
A spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation said DeMint is barred by Senate rules from speaking about individual races for a year after he left that body.
Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for the Senate fund, said DeMint severed his ties with the PAC in 2012. A lot of folks out there post stories that try to connect the Senate Conservatives Fund to (DeMint) and what we are doing now, said Hoskins, calling those efforts misinformed.
But in comments at a town-hall meeting Monday, DeMint seemed to agree with the Senate funds ad. DeMint talked about next months looming budget fight, including the threat by some Republicans to block bills that include money for the Affordable Care Act, an action that could lead to a government shutdown.
I think (Democratic President Barack Obama) knows that Republicans are afraid, and if they are, they need to be replaced, DeMint told NPR after the town-hall meeting.
A Graham spokesman said the senator has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills that would repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act. Asked whether DeMint supports Grahams re-election campaign, the spokesman did not comment.
Graham faces three challengers in next summers Republican primary, including Upstate businessman Richard Cash, Lowcountry business owner Nancy Mace and Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright.
Democrat Jay Stamper, who runs a nonprofit in Columbia, is running against Graham as a Democrat.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.