The South Carolina Republican, who authored the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year, said Wednesday that it would be a mistake to scuttle reform efforts after the upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia. Cantor’s little-known tea-party challenger focused his challenge on the immigration issue and won by double digits.
Immigration, he said, is “not a Republican issue.”
“It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue. It’s a national security issue.”
Graham said he’s confident that Republicans in both South Carolina and across the nation would accept a “rational solution” if they were confident it would fix the problem.
The senator, who’s seeking a third term, has been criticized for working with Democrats on the issue. It’s one reason why a half-dozen or so of the state’s 46 county Republican parties passed resolutions chastising Graham during his second term.
But he said the primary shows most Republicans applaud him for at least trying.
“People know I’m for immigration reform. I took it head-on, and most South Carolina conservatives want a solution,” he said.
Graham said he can’t explain what happened with Cantor in Virginia, but “South Carolina was a referendum on whether or not you can be a conservative and solve a problem, or at least try.”
While his six opponents were allied with the tea party, Graham said he and the tea party are not at odds. He believes many people who consider themselves aligned with the tea party saw the criticism against him as off-base.
“My enemy is not the tea party. My enemy is the status quo. My enemy is liberal Democrats trying to take the country and turn it upside down. They’re my political enemy. The real enemy is al-Qaida and the Taliban,” he said. “When the tea party looked at me, they didn’t see an enemy, they saw a guy who understood the threats we have as a nation.”