Michael LaPierre, a retired businessman who lives in Pickens County, is preparing to challenge Republican Lindsey Graham for his Senate seat, saying the longtime incumbent isn't conservative enough for South Carolina.
"I think Senator Graham gets real conservative every election cycle," LaPierre told me by phone on Monday. "I think he comes running back to the right real hard and in interviews, and he says he does that because he wants to remain relevant. To me, if you peel that onion back, he’s really saying he’s not a true conservative. He’s what I call a fake conservative."
LaPierre has been announcing his candidacy around the state since early June. Today, he will make it official in the Lowcountry, where he will speak at Charleston Southern University.
LaPierre, who has never held political office before, said he's running because he wants to see Christian values back in politics. He took aim at Graham for not taking a more conservative stance on issues like abortion and immigration.
"When you ask him, 'Should Roe v. Wade be overturned?' he gives you a lawyerly reason and says it is precedent and uses the term stare decisis," LaPierre said of Graham. "He says it should not be overturned unless there’s some good reason. Well, how about the babies? That’s the reason for me."
With the addition of LaPierre, Graham has officially drawn four GOP challengers, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.
The other candidates angling for the Republican nomination against Graham are Mark Sloan of Greer, Charleston retiree Peggy Kandies, and Joseph Reynolds of North Charleston.
On the Democratic side, Graham has drawn two challengers: Former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison and economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu.
LaPierre pledged to put "religious freedom front and center" in his campaign.
Asked who he thinks Graham serves, LaPierre responded, "He’s serving his national aspirations and his political ambition. I think he has left his first love and that first love is the people of South Carolina."
However, according to a new poll, LaPierre has a real challenge ahead of him.
A new Post and Courier-Change Research poll of South Carolina voters found that 51 percent said they would vote for Graham if the election were held today compared to 36 percent for the Democratic candidate. Another 12 percent said they were not sure. Among likely Republican voters, 51 percent said they will definitely vote for Graham in the primary and another 28 percent said they will probably vote for him, compared to just 19 percent who would probably or definitely vote for someone else.