South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham has long been one of the Tea Party's least-favorite Republicans, owing to many factors, with his pro-immigration reform stance and close friendship with John McCain (another Tea Party boogeyman) chief among them.
But as one of Graham's Tea Party challengers in South Carolina's upcoming GOP primary made clear on Thursday, there's also an underlying strain of homophobia at work, despite the fact that Graham has always said he is heterosexual.
Speaking at a press event, four conservative Republican challengers to Graham announced their intention to ultimately join forces and back whoever ends up facing the incumbent senator in the state's primary. Yet this orchestrated bit of political theater soon went off-course after one of the challengers, former police officer Dave Feliciano, criticized Graham for being "ambiguously gay."
"It's about time that South Carolina [says], 'Hey, we're tired of the ambiguously gay senator from South Carolina. We're ready for a new leader to merge the Republican Party. We're done with this," Feliciano said. "This is what it's about, all of us coming together and saying, one way or the other, one of us is going to be on that ballot in November."
Their prior talk of solidarity aside, Feliciano's fellow challengers to Graham immediately tried to distance themselves from his comments. "Mr. Feliciano's comments were inappropriate and I disavow any association with them," said one candidate, businessman Richard Cash. Another candidate, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, reminded the press that each candidate's comments were his own.