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Why is Sen. Lindsey Graham now Obama's antagonist in chief?

Not long ago, the Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was seen as a 'maverick' Republican willing to work across the aisle. But there appears to be a clear reason for his rightward shift.

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Back then, Graham was known for working with Democrats on issues like comprehensive immigration reform and climate change. He voted for both of President Obama's Supreme Court picks, and has been a proponent of closing Guantánamo Bay

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Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.

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He also received the lowest rating of all Republican senators from the anti-tax Club for Growth – whose president, Chris Chocola, suggested at a Monitor breakfast in September that they may support a primary challenge against Graham when he goes up for reelection in 2014.

Which may help explain Graham's recent morphing into the Obama administration's antagonist in chief. If anything, Graham seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was initially a top target for tea party groups in 2012, but wound up winning reelection easily after a full-court press to win back support from the right.

Last month, political scientist Jordan Ragusa of the College of Charleston charted Graham's move to the right during his time in the Senate on the blog Rule22, writing: "I suspect this movement is especially pronounced in the current Senate (we don’t have the data yet) and will only accelerate in the coming 113th." He added: "the reality is that Graham has carefully prepared for a conservative challenge in 2014." 

And so far, it seems to be working. A Public Policy Polling survey last month found that Graham had significantly improved his standing among Republican voters in South Carolina, going from just 37 percent saying they'd support him in a primary back in 2011 to 66 percent saying they'd support him now.    


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