The principal message Graham hopes to send with his expected victory, it turns out, is not directed primarily at the right wing of the party at all. It is a message for his fellow Republican officeholders, who have often been more inclined to cower and appease the Tea Party than to fight it. "Somebody, somewhere, had better up their game, because our country is going in the wrong direction," he says. "And if it's not me, who's it going to be? Why should I hide in a corner because it's hard and somebody may not like it?"
If he wins, Graham tells me, "What you have seen here is that silent majority of the Republican Party expressing themselves—the people who don't stay on the Internet 24 hours a day telling you what you can't do. I've tapped into something here, and I hope Republicans understand it."
* * *
As I head to the Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, a local landmark known for its greasy fare and lighthouse-shaped sign, local talk radio is abuzz, as usual, with antagonism for Graham. Russ Cassell, the host, is hopefully wondering if the Graham campaign's blitzkrieg actually means the senator might be in trouble, despite polls showing him hovering on the brink of 50 percent and none of his opponents breaking double digits.
A caller who identifies himself as Neil comes on the air. "I don't believe Lindsey Graham's a true Republican," he says. "I don't even believe he's just a RINO," or Republican in Name Only. "I believe he's a Democrat." Neil is supporting Lee Bright, a state senator from Spartanburg who has proposed allowing the state to mint its own currency and compared the IRS to Hitler's Brownshirts.
Bright was second to Graham at 9 percent in the latest poll, but he doesn't seem to be campaigning the day before the election. Instead, I'm headed to the Beacon to see Bill Connor, who has registered between 1 percent and 4 percent of the vote in recent surveys. A podium is set up in the solarium-like fast-food dining room, and exactly four people are in the audience, including his son and three devoted supporters.
Connor believes the government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and that profligate foreign aid is to blame for the national debt. He would like to eliminate the federal departments of education and labor. In addition to closing the borders and cracking down on illegal immigration, he wants to reduce the number of legal immigrants. Midway through his speech, he whips out his pocket copy of the Constitution.
When I talk to Connor, he seems somewhat bewildered by the way the campaign has unfolded. Back in February of 2009, he was a speaker at the state's first Tea Party rally. A couple of months later, he introduced then-Senator Jim DeMint on the steps of the statehouse as a crowd of 10,000 cheered. As a first-time candidate, he ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 and surprised the political establishment by raising more than $600,000 and coming in second in a crowded primary field.