An immigration alliance with Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts is damaging Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham among conservative Republicans.
The damage to the two Republican senators caused by their support for Mr. Kennedy’s immigration bill — which was blocked by a Senate filibuster last night — is especially clear in Mr. Graham’s home state, scene of an early presidential primary next year.
“I’m very wary of a Republican who is talking to Ted Kennedy,” Rick Beltram, Republican Party chairman for Spartanburg County, S.C., told The Washington Times yesterday, after it was reported that Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain had first checked with Mr. Kennedy before deciding to vote with the Massachusetts Democrat on an amendment to the Senate bill.
The Kennedy-McCain alliance was criticized by one of Mr. McCain’s Republican presidential rivals, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo.
“John McCain has always prided himself as a man who marches to the beat of a different drummer,” Mr. Tancredo told The Times yesterday. “How depressing to learn that the drummer is Ted Kennedy.”
A South Carolina Republican who resigned Wednesday from the McCain campaign said he had reached a “parting of ways with McCain and Lindsey Graham” over the immigration issue.
“I hear from a lot of people, and I have yet to get one positive opinion on this immigration bill,” David Nix, who served as chairman for Mr. McCain’s campaign in Aiken County, S.C., told The Times yesterday.
“I feel McCain and Graham are out of touch with the people of South Carolina,” Mr. Nix said. “They are listening to the illegal aliens and not the citizens. We have lot of illegal aliens in this state.”
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said the immigration issue has inflamed Republican voters in his state.
“I have been chairman for five years and have never seen anything that has connected with the base like this amnesty fight,” Mr. Dawson said. “I can’t go down the street, walk into a restaurant or fill my gas tank without people walking up to me and saying, ‘What are you all going to do about immigration?’”
The South Carolina fallout over the immigration measure — denounced by conservatives as “amnesty” — has split the state’s two Republican senators. The conference Wednesday between Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain and Mr. Kennedy involved the two Republicans seeking the Massachusetts Democrat’s guidance on how to vote on an amendment offered by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Mr. DeMint’s amendment would have required illegal aliens to pay for health insurance coverage in order to qualify for residency under the Senate measure, which would legalize millions of illegals.
Mr. Beltram, who is a friend of Mr. Graham’s and whose daughter works for the senator, said Mr. DeMint’s opposition to the bill resonates with South Carolina Republicans.
“The base in general thinks Jim DeMint walks on water and are concerned about Lindsey’s position on this,” the Spartanburg party chairman said.
An Iowa Republican also credited the immigration issue with causing Mr. McCain and another Republican presidential candidate, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, to skip the Aug. 11 Iowa straw poll.
“Once the Senate announced their amnesty bill, Giuliani and McCain had the albatross of amnesty hung around their necks,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. “I’ve said for months you can’t win the Iowa Caucus if you support amnesty.”
Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus “will punch at least two tickets to New Hampshire and they will be the most viable candidates for the Republican nomination for president,” Mr. King said.
In South Carolina, Mr. Graham faces re-election next year, but Republican officials there said he is unlikely to face a primary challenger. Still, Mr. Beltram said he advised Mr. Graham to distance himself from Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign, which Mr. Beltram says “is heading south” in his state.
The most recent poll in South Carolina, by the American Research Group, showed Mr. McCain with 32 percent to 23 percent for Mr. Giuliani among South Carolina Republicans.