Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a news conference, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
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Tea party challengers take aim at Graham


South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Saturday faced the six Republicans mounting a primary challenge against him for the first and last debate before Tuesday’s GOP vote.

“Twenty years is too long,” said attorney Bill Connor, adding together Graham’s two terms in the Senate and four terms in the House. “It’s not personal. I think you’re a good man. But the issue is that we need new blood.”

Though the talk was of immigration, judicial nominees, and Graham’s conservative credentials – or accused lack thereof – there was only one real underlying question: Can Graham hit the required 50% to avoid a runoff?

“Twenty years is too long.”
Attorney Bill Connor
Unlike in Mississippi, where incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran is facing a runoff election against State Sen. Chris McDaniel, in South Carolina, the right flank never coalesced around a single candidate.

A Clemson University poll released last week found that 49% of likely Republican voters support Graham’s reelection. Trailing at a distant second is state Senator Lee Bright, with 9% of likely voters’ support.

“You might have the money, but we’ve got the message, and we hope to see you in the runoff,” said Bright in Saturday’s debate.

Under attack for his votes for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Graham replied,  “If you want conservative judges, let’s elect a conservative president.” He pointed out that his predecessor Strom Thurmond only voted against two out of the 23 Supreme Court justices he was asked to vote on.

“You might have the money, but we’ve got the message, and we hope to see you in the runoff.”
State Senator Lee Bright
Graham emphasized his opposition to the president, saying, “Barack Obama’s foreign policy is failing,” Graham also positioned himself as someone who gets things done: “If I go back to the Senate, it’s with a purpose.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re getting something done if it’s the wrong thing,” responded Richard Cash. He accused Graham of having no core principles, and outlined his own: “I believe American heritage is built upon the heritage of Christianity, capitalism, and the constitution.”

Nancy Mace, the only woman in the race, started by declaring, “I’m not a politician. I’m a wife, a mother, and a small business owner.” In a barb to Graham, she added, “I will be a conservative voice every year, not just in an election year.”

MSNBC Live with Tamron Hall , 6/9/14, 12:26 PM ET

Will Sen. Graham avoid a runoff election?

First Read: Southern states like South Carolina and Virginia along with Nevada and Maine will hold primaries on Tuesday, and NBC News’ Mark Murray joins Kristen Welker to discuss.

Lindsey Graham, Senate, Senate Republicans and South Carolina

Tea party challengers take aim at Graham