South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R) decision to join a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass immigration reform came fraught with political risks.
Graham faces reelection in 2014 and his efforts to work across the aisle on immigration leaves him vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right flank of the GOP. While no top-tier challenger has emerged, Graham's supporters are well aware of the threat. NumbersUSA, an immigration restictionist group, recently launched an ad attacking Graham for backing the immigration reform effort.
That's why a pro-immigration reform GOP super PAC is launching a TV ad in South Carolina defending Graham's work on immigration. The 30-second spot argues that Graham's efforts on immigration reform will boost the state's economy.
"South Carolina businesses will not be able to continue to grow without real immigration solutions," Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, says in the ad. "Sen. Graham's right on target in fighting for immigration reform today."
The ad is paid for by Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC led by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban exile and a major backer of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The group can raise unlimited sums of money to support GOP proponents of immigration reform and to attack opponents.
Republicans for Immigration Reform is paying $60,000 for the ad to air one week across the state of South Carolina, the co-founder and treasurer of the group, told reporters on a conference call.
"Lindsey Graham is a great leader on this issue," said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, which is organizing business leaders in South Carolina to support immigration reform. "The way the media and other folks often talk about this, they talk about the costs of immigration, not the benefits of it. We have to give voice about the arguments on how this will help the economy."
Spies said that his super PAC would get involved in competitive primaries on behalf of Graham and other GOP candidates who come under fire for supporting immigration.
"If Republicans are getting attacked because of their support for a comprehensive approach, yes we are going to defend them," he said.
Officials also waved off concerns that highlighting Graham's support for immigration reform could hurt him in a GOP primary. South Carolina has open primary rules that allow independents and Democrats to participate.
"Primaries draw more polarized voters, but what Americans care about is economy and jobs," Robbins said. Highlighting the positives of immigration reform, "is going to be an important thing in the primary and for the economy at large," he added.