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Prominent South Carolina Conservative Offers Support For Graham

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:40 PM ET

Graham

A prominent South Carolina conservative offered support for Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday after a local Republican party censured the senator for working with Democrats.

Katon Dawson, the former state party chair, and a recent candidate for Republican National Committee chairman, said that while he understands the anger felt by Charleston County Republicans, Graham was just, well, being Graham.

"What has the base so upset was that any time you partner up with a Hillary Clinton and John Kerry or, god bless him, Ted Kennedy, you have a problem on your hands," Dawson told the Huffington Post. "But I know Lindsey. He is cagey and crafty. People forget that he grew up in the back of a pool hall and that his daddy sold liquor. People forget that.

"There is a price to pay back home when you partner with John Kerry," Dawson added. "There is a price you pay when you have photo ops with Hillary Clinton. But Lindsey has always been willing to pay that price."

"I understand both sides," he said. "I truly do."

Dawson's defense, however qualified, certainly will be welcomed by the Graham camp. On Wednesday, the senator found himself censured by the local party for weakening the Republican brand.

Dawson, who is a decidedly conservative figure inside party ranks, reminded local officials that -- for all his bipartisan mushiness -- Graham had actually secured some important policy victories.

"At the end of the day what we are looking for is offshore drilling for natural gas and Lindsey got that in the bill," said Dawson of the climate legislation being considered.

The former party chair also noted that Graham's work brokering a compromise to maintain the filibuster in the Senate (which was much bemoaned by conservatives when it happened in 2005) now seemed downright prescient.

"I give Lindsey his due," Dawson said. "He said, 'Guys, let me tell you, we aren't always going to be in charge and we will be real sorry if we change these rules.' And he was right."

Memories in conservative circles are short, however. And Graham currently is a target of choice for much of the tea-party crowd.

Graham's best friend in the Senate is John McCain, another Republican pol who took a bit of pride in rankling his own party's leadership.

"We have two U.S Senators in South Carolina who will balance each other out. We have Jim DeMint who will always be a conservative," said Dawson. "And we have Lindsey. Lindsey marches to the beat of a different drum. He is of the McCain camp variety for sure.

"If you look under the dictionary, 'South Carolina Maverick' there is Lindsey's picture," Dawson added. "Lindsey is from a state where center right is not a comfortable place to be but I understand what he is saying."

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