Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) may not have gained much traction in the presidential campaign.
But his decision to suspend his campaign on Monday could have a significant effect on the race in his home state, the third-voting state in the Republican presidential primary.
Graham commanded strong loyalty within his home state’s Republican Party, helping him secure the endorsements of many prominent party leaders.
The day after he announced his run for president, Graham released an impressive 100-person fundraising network in the Palmetto State.
That network will be important to candidates looking to use wins in one or more of the early-nominating states to boost momentum early on in the nomination process.
Liz Mair, a veteran GOP strategist who briefly worked on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) campaign earlier this year, noted that Graham’s departure from the race frees up some state elected officials and activists to endorse another candidate.
“Yes, I think they do matter. I think a lot of big names in SC will be inclined to stay neutral, but some people will maybe feel more open to declaring an allegiance to another candidate now,” she told Business Insider.
State party officials, meanwhile, told Business Insider that loyalty to Graham ran deep in the state. Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said Graham’s decision to leave the race will free up a battle for his supporters among establishment-oriented candidates.
“Senator Graham won a highly contested primary with 56% of the vote,” Moore said, referring to Graham’s victory in last year’s US Senate race. “He has a loyal and devoted following. You can’t win that kind of primary without devoted support. I would not be surprised if his campaign mobilized on behalf of another candidate.”
Already, several campaigns have been making phone calls. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) campaign said that it would have an update on potential supporters who’d previously backed Graham “soon.” That came after Bush lavished praise on Graham in a parting tweet.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) campaign also touted at least two Graham converts only minutes after the senator’s public announcement.
In particular, some Republicans in South Carolina are keeping their eyes on former US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, who said in September that he would likely back Bush (R) if Graham dropped out.
But Moore said that based off conversations with the small campaign staff, Graham himself and some top backers would likely take the holiday break before making any big announcements.
“Speaking with his campaign this morning, it seems like they would at least take the holidays to decide,” Moore said. “They have no plans to endorse a candidate.”
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