Graham gets primary support from business, Bloomberg

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

South Carolina’s embattled Sen. Lindsey Graham is getting some home-state aid from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He’s also getting support from one of President George W. Bush’s cabinet secretaries, Carlos Gutierrez, whose business-backed group, Republicans for Immigration Reform, launched a $60,000 TV ad campaign to help Graham get through the GOP’s 2014 primary.

The support is being sent because Graham is drawing criticism for his effort to pass a controversial immigration bill that would provide a path for 11 million illegal immigrants to become citizens, and eventually help them bring their relatives into the country.

Graham is getting flack from NumbersUSA, which wants to reduce the annual number of immigrants, now estimated at roughly 1 million. The group is running ads against Graham suggesting that he’s not representing South Carolina residents.

Additionally, two little-known people have announced they may run against Graham, partly because of his statements against Sen. Rand Paul and his suggestion that would would support another major tax increase.

Graham’s bill would also give U.S. companies new legal means to import many skilled and unskilled workers for jobs.

The bill’s overall goals are backed by several Republicans, most Democratic legislators and President Barack Obama.

Graham pushed similar bills in 2006 and 2007. Those bills failed because of popular protests, and Graham backed away from the issue until after the 2012 election.

Bloomberg’s aid came in the form of a March 13 press-conference in Columbia, S.C., that was organized by people working the Partnership for a New American Economy. The group is headed by Bloomberg, several Democratic politicians and numerous government-tied business leaders.

The press event was hosted by the Palmetto State Coalition for Immigration Reform, and it included business, religious, university and agricultural groups. “Our immigration laws make it very difficult [for foreign graduates] to remain in the United States and do business here,” said Ike McLeese, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, S.C., The State reports.

Republicans for Immigration Reform is funding the $60,000 TV ad, which emphasize business leaders’ push for immigrant workers.

“Today’s immigration laws are not written for today’s South Carolina businesses,” says the ad, which features Bryan Derrenberry, the president of the Charleston-area Chamber of Commerce. “Sen. Graham is right on target in fighting for immigration reform today.”

The pro-immigration ad was put on the air because “Sen. Lindsey Graham was unfairly attacked over the last few weeks for his support of comprehensive immigration reform,” Charlie Spies, co-founder of Republicans for Immigration Reform, said on a March 13 call with reporters.

“If the only people on TV …. throw buzzwords out but don’t explain the context that immigration is having on the economy, then that is harmful to progress on the debate and harmful to the discourse,” Spies added.

“Lindsey Graham for years has shown incredible courage to lead on this issue at potential cost to himself,” said Jeremy Robbins, a director of Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy. By supporting Graham in South Carolina, immigration-advocates “will encourage other senators, and encourage other business leaders to get out and get more vocal,” he said during the telephone press conference.

Graham is in a strong position to win the primary, partly because he has a large war-chest — estimated at $6 million — and strong support from the state’s GOP leaders business leaders.

Follow Neil on Twitter