COLUMBIA, SC — Four of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's announced challengers in June's Republican primary pledged support for each other Thursday if any of them end up in a runoff with the Seneca incumbent.
But a news conference announcing their alliance on the State House steps took an unexpected turn when the most minor of the candidates, Dave Feliciano of Spartanburg, took the podium and called Graham "ambiguously gay."
Feliciano said, "It's about time that South Carolina (says) hey, We're tired of the ambiguously gay senator from South Carolina. We're ready for a new leader to merge the Republican Party. We're done with this. This is what it's about, all of us coming together and saying, one way or the other, one of us is going to be on that ballot in November."
A former police officer from Spartanburg with no political experience who recently announced he's running for Senate, Filiciano signed the pact with state Sen. Lee Bright, Easley businessman Richard Cash and Orangeburg Attorney Bill Connor before the news event began and each candidate gave a statement.
A news release about the event showed that Bright, Cash and Connor had committed, but Feliciano showed up at the event at the State House.
The pledge says: "We, the undersigned genuine conservative Republicans, agree to endorse whichever one of our fellow signers advances to the run-off election against incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham following the South Carolina Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate on the 10th of June 2014."
Invitations were extended to all six announced challengers.
Graham has faced similar attacks before and denied claims about his sexuality.
After the event, Connor renounced Feliciano's comments as personal attacks and said each candidate's comment were their own.
Cash said he believe's in free speech, "but I also believe in being civil and respectful. Mr. Feliciano's comments were inappropriate and I disavow any association with them (the comments)."
However, both Cash and Connor said they still would honor the agreement, which they signed.
Bright left the conference early, before Feliciano spoke.
Filing for the U.S. Senate seat opens March 16, but some of Graham's opponents have been campaigning for several weeks or months.
Graham faces six challengers in June's primary if all go through with filing. In addition to the four present Thursday, Columbia pastor Det Bowers and Charleston PR executive Nancy Mace also are running.
Bowers and Mace were invited to participate in the pledge but did not attend.