The field of challengers to Lindsey Graham is growing.
Since Richard Cash spoke to last month’s meeting of the Sumter TEA Party, two other challengers to South Carolina’s senior senator have announced their intention to run in next year’s Republican primary — Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace and this month’s TEA Party speaker, state Sen. Lee Bright.
The senator from Spartanburg made an early campaign stop to Thursday’s meeting at the Elks Lodge in Sumter, attempting to draw as stark a contrast between himself and Graham as possible.
Talking about Graham’s often high profile in the national media and his recent trip to Egypt, Bright said that as senator he would be focused on South Carolina’s needs, not “traveling the world with John McCain on behalf of Barack Obama being a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
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In his time in the state Senate, Bright said he’s received top marks from the Tea Party, a 100 percent rating from the state Club for Growth, filibustered two state budgets and opposed taking money from the 2009 stimulus. In a discussion with another legislator, Bright said, his colleague once called him “flexible as concrete.”
Now turning his attention to national politics, Bright said he “thanked God for Jim DeMint,” but opposed Graham for his more moderate tone and willingness to reach across the aisle. In particular, he stressed his opposition to Graham’s support for comprehensive immigration reform, the National Security Agency’s data-collection program and his votes to approve Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.
“Being an American used to mean something,” Bright said, “but now they’re destroying it and letting people come in here illegally and call themselves American.”
He contrasted Graham’s position on the NSA with his own position on smaller government. “He can trade his rights away if he wants to, but he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, so he can’t give mine away.”
Bright seemed to relish the opposition his stances draw. His own father-in-law once told him he couldn’t win his race for the state Senate because he didn’t “bring home the bacon,” and while canvassing for re-election he ran into a voter who told Bright he opposed him because he voted against the man’s “pet project.”
But to create less government and move power from the federal government to the states and the private sphere, he feels the government needs more of what Bright’s colleague called his “flexibility.” He cited Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the Senate and Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., in the House as the kind of people in Congress who can solve the nation’s problems.
“It’s not that I’m inflexible, but if it means more government, I’m against it, and if it means less government, I’m for it,” he said.
Bright said he thinks Americans can handle themselves without government help, noting he was born before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, “but I could still breathe.” When Charleston suffered a devastating earthquake in 1886, there was no federal emergency response.
“The mayor just sent out something to the papers saying ‘please send us these items,’” he said, “Then another saying ‘don’t send any more. We don’t need it.’”
The crowd at the Sumter TEA Party meeting this week seemed to like what they heard, responding to several of Bright’s comments with a round of applause.
“I think he’s good for our country,” said Shirley O’Quinn, who when asked what she liked about Bright, responded “pretty much everything he said.”
Another TEA Party member, Debbie Thompson, said she was glad to see Bright already getting attention this early in the election cycle.
“I had heard him on Glenn Beck,” she said, referring to a conservative commentator who can be heard on television and radio broadcasts.