by Sam Spence
Sullivan's Island Libertarian Keith Blandford is the first to announce his intention to mount a primary challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the GOP primary, filing paperwork to form an exploratory committee to evaluate running on both the Republican and Libertarian tickets.
Blandford, who has run for Congress twice as a Libertarian, most recently in the 2012 election against 1st District Rep. Tim Scott, says he plans to take advantage of a South Carolina law that lets a candidate run under multiple parties, allowing him to force Graham, who would be running for a third term, into a primary fight.
Though there has been speculation that Graham would face primary opposition, Blandford is the first candidate to make it unofficially official—the filing period for the race won’t open until March 2014. The senator brushed off talk of a challenger earlier this year, "I don’t fear one; I expect one." Graham’s work across the aisle over the years has earned him criticism from the Right, particularly at the height of tea party chatter since the 2010 election. With a delegation of rising Republican stars like Scott, Nikki Haley, Mick Mulvaney, Trey Gowdy, and Tom Davis, a serious challenge in ‘14 and beyond doesn’t seem out of the question.
Blandford calls himself an "ardent Ron Paul supporter," and in a press release, a campaign spokesman says the "governmental over-reach supported by Republicans like Lindsey Graham" is the reason he's decided to make a run at the state's senior senator this time around.
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly told The Hill last week that he thinks some GOP frustration may be tempered by Graham’s outspoken criticism of the president and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice over the September 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Connelly praised Graham as a "shining rock star in foreign policy of late."
The state's 'fusion' election law allows a candidate to run for office under multiple political parties, with votes from each party listing going toward the candidate's cumulative vote total. Candidates must win the nomination from each party to appear on the general election ballot, which means that if Blandford is defeated by Graham in the Republican primary, he'll be off the November 2014 ballot completely.
Blandford acknowledges that the race against Graham will be an uphill battle, but that he hopes to "unify the fragmented conservative grassroots, plus a few unhappy Democrats." As of the last finance reporting period, Graham had $4.3 million on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission.