South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s exit from the 2016 nomination contest could help reshape the Republican race, according to some news reports and analysis. Politico reports on other candidates who are seeking the backing of Graham’s campaign supporters, and the importance of those supporters:
Graham's rivals scramble to scoop up his supporters
Lindsey Graham's departure from the race set off a scramble among his rivals to try to pick up the support of the South Carolina senator and his backers, a valuable commodity given the state's first-in-the-South primary….
Dr. Edward Floyd said he received a call from Jeb Bush on Monday morning and that he extended his support to the former Florida governor. "It never was any question in my mind that if he dropped out that I would go with Bush," Floyd said. Floyd said the call with Bush was brief….
Bush on Monday also claimed the endorsement of former Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary Pam Patenaude, who had been backing Graham.
It wasn't just Bush who benefited. Doug Smith, a former speaker pro tempore of the South Carolina House and longtime friend of Graham's, told POLITICO he’s backing Sen. Marco Rubio.
The article notes that while Graham had little support in the polls, he has a strong backing in his home state, which would be a valuable boost to any candidate when South Carolina heads to the polls following the New Hampshire primary. And according to the article, the establishment-oriented candidates are poised to pick up the bulk of Graham’s South Carolina organization, but it could be a while:
Wallace Cheves, managing partner of Sky Boat Gaming and a co-chair of Graham’s South Carolina effort, said the senator’s local team is intensely loyal to him and will likely await his signal before endorsing another candidate….
Cheves said Graham’s South Carolina supporters are “constantly” in touch with his campaign but haven’t yet set another date to talk. But he predicted that Graham will make a new choice well ahead of a Jan. 14 GOP primary debate that will take place in North Charleston.
Graham's support for a GOP presidential candidate, [former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Barry] Wynn stressed repeatedly, may not seem that profitable nationally but in the state it's undeniable. "He could have a huge impact here," he said.
Alex Rogers of National Journal has a similar piece suggesting Graham could “play kingmaker” in the South Carolina primary:
Graham’s support matters, even though the senator from South Carolina never stood with the dozen or so candidates on the prime-time, top-tier debate stage….
The question now remains what he’ll do and where his support will go. Since he entered the race in June, Graham frequently attacked Donald Trump over his nativist, ban-the-Muslims rhetoric, as well as any candidate who didn’t purport hawkish foreign policy views, whether it be Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. In just the last week, he lumped both Cruz and Paul together as “isolationists” and labeled Cruz, who has attempted to position himself between Graham and Paul, as a “drunk driver going from one lane to the other.” It’s pretty clear Graham won’t be supporting any of those three candidates.
Graham’s support then could go to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, or even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has adopted Graham’s approach of talking tough and making New Hampshire a second home. He could also join some senior members of his team who will now support Jeb Bush; Graham national finance committee chairman David Wilkins told me earlier this year that he would support Jeb if Graham weren’t in the race. Wilkins, who served as ambassador to Canada under George W. Bush, wouldn’t comment about that on Monday, but another member of Graham’s national finance committee, Edward Floyd, said there was no doubt he would be a Bush donor.
Graham’s departure could prove to be more meaningful to the race than the other early exits from the GOP field. Jindal and Perry had little support and their home-state organizations didn’t look to be much of a factor. Walker had somewhat more impact at the time of his exit given his support in the polls and strong position in Iowa, but he left so early in the race that his supporters and organization were quickly absorbed by others while the first voting remained months in the future. Graham leaves at a time close to the first votes and still remains a formidable force in South Carolina, which will likely help further narrow the field following New Hampshire. By leaving now, Graham could be a major factor in determining who goes on after his home state’s primary and who is forced to call it quits.