Report: Conservative Rep. Ralph Norman could mount primary challenge against Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2026

July 21, 2023
Ben Marquis

A substantial number of Republicans generally dislike and distrust Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in part due to his being a D.C. establishment moderate who often appears too eager to work with and support the Democratic agenda, but also in part because he is a neoconservative war hawk whose support for open-ended foreign conflicts and sharp rhetoric against America's enemies and rivals risk sparking involvement in military conflict.

Reports now indicate that a staunchly conservative House Republican from South Carolina, Rep. Ralph Norman, is considering mounting a primary challenge against Graham when the senator next runs for re-election in 2026, the Daily Caller reported.

However, Graham's unpopularity among a sizeable portion of the Republican electorate is nothing new, and the establishment centrist who's never seen a military conflict he didn't think the U.S. should become involved in has previously survived primary challenges against him in prior election cycles.

Potential primary challenge for Graham

The Politico Playbook reported Thursday that it had learned from anonymous sources that Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was giving consideration to launching a primary challenge against Sen. Graham in the 2026 election cycle.

That consideration is said to have been prompted by multiple groups and constituents who contacted Norman and urged him to run after Graham was mercilessly and repeatedly booed by his own constituents when he appeared at a rally a few weeks ago with former President Donald Trump.

A 2026 challenge of Graham by Norman would be a significant change from the 2020 cycle, when Norman endorsed Graham's re-election bid and helped him fend off three primary challengers who aimed to oust the senator.

In a separate report that same day from Politico, Norman himself confirmed, "Oh no, I’m not ruling it out," when asked about the earlier Playbook report about the potential primary challenge against Graham.

Congressman "not ruling anything out"

South Carolina's The Post and Courier reported on the rumored primary challenge of Sen. Graham and similarly found that the conservative congressman was "not ruling anything out" when Rep. Norman's office was asked about the Politico report.

The congressman's deputy chief of staff and spokesman, Austin Livingston, said in a statement, "Rep. Norman told us this morning he is not ruling anything out but has made no decisions yet on future elections."

"He remains firmly committed to serving South Carolina’s 5th District in the House and doing everything within his ability to restore fiscal sanity and conservative values to Washington," he added.

Graham deeply unpopular with constituents, per polling and rally incident

The Post and Courier noted that Sen. Graham's office did not respond to a request for comment, but the outlet did confirm that Graham had struggled mightily to deal with the seemingly hostile crowd of his own constituents at the July 1 rally with former President Trump that loudly and incessantly booed him throughout his remarks, save for when he was offering up praise for Trump -- whom he has endorsed ahead of the 2024 GOP primary and general election cycle.

It further noted that Graham, who has served as a South Carolina senator since 2003, is rather unpopular in his own state -- particularly in comparison to the great popularity of fellow Sen. Tim Scott and Gov. Henry McMaster -- according to polling in May from Winthrop University, which found that 57 percent of South Carolinians disapprove of Graham while 43 percent approve of the job he is doing in Washington D.C.

If Norman, a former state legislator who ascended to Congress in 2017 to replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney when he left to become Trump's budget chief, were to actually challenge Graham for his Senate seat in 2026, he would have a massive financial gap to overcome, as Norman's campaign reportedly has only around $600,000 cash on hand while Graham is sitting on a campaign war chest of around $14.2 million.

Of course, such a prospective challenge is still three years away, and a lot could change over that span of time, both in favor of and against this potential development involving the conservative congressman and unpopular centrist senator.

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