DON GONYEA, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. The Senate is expected to vote early next week on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. One of Hagel's most vocal opponents has been South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, this may have more to do with his home state politics than the nomination itself.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Senator Lindsey Graham is known as a dealmaker. He's part of the gang of eight, working on comprehensive immigration reform, and once said he thought the Tea Party would die out. These are problems in deep red South Carolina. In recent weeks, it seems the senator has done his best to get as much ink as possible, talking about things that do play well with the conservatives in his home state.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Let's find out what happened in Benghazi. Don't paper it over, don't let them stonewall, mislead, deny and deceive.

KEITH: This was Graham as at recent Capitol Hill press conference. Graham held up the Hagel nomination to get more answers about Benghazi, even if he admitted Hagel had nothing to do with it.

GRAHAM: And if the shoe were on the other foot, and this was a Republican president, I guarantee you that a lot of Democrats are doing more than I'm doing. And you know what? They probably should.

KEITH: The actual point of that press conference was to talk about gun control and the senator made sure to mention his own guns.

GRAHAM: Being from South Carolina, I've owned guns all of my life. I own an AR-15.

KEITH: In recent years, Republican senators who've shown moderate leanings have been hit with primary challenges from the right. Two longtime senators actually lost. And while no serious challenger has emerged yet in South Carolina, there are a whole lot of people hoping one does. Tom Davis is a Republican state senator.

STATE SENATOR TOM DAVIS: There are some legitimate concerns being asked about Benghazi. There are some legitimate concerns being asked about Chuck Hagel. That being said, I do think it's fair to say that there has been a conscious effort on the part of Senator Graham to elevate his role in those debates.

KEITH: But Davis says that masks votes Graham has taken that conflict with small government ideals. Graham voted the bank bailout, once worked on climate change legislation and voted for the recent fiscal cliff deal that allowed taxes to rise on the wealthiest Americans.

DAVIS: All of those things have caused individuals to wonder whether or not Lindsey Graham is representative of the type of conservative, or the type of Republican that we need in Washington, D.C. right now.

KEITH: For a while, Davis was discussed as a possible primary challenger but he bowed out to focus on his agenda as a state senator.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You going to be here tomorrow?

KEITH: At Tommy's Country Ham House in Greenville, a cafeteria-style restaurant and a must-stop for candidates, opinions on the senator were mixed. Some didn't think he was conservative enough. Others had high praise. And then there was Bill Storey.

BILL STOREY: As a matter of fact, Lindsey Graham comes in here fairly frequently.

KEITH: Storey is a retired engineer and says he's neutral on Graham.

STOREY: I am not a fan of John McCain's and never have been. And he allies too much with John McCain, I think. And that's one of the negatives about Lindsey Graham.

KEITH: Graham is widely praised for his constituent services and his campaign war chest is formidable. He already has $4 million cash on hand, which is my political consultant, Chip Felkel, doesn't think Graham has much to worry about.

CHIP FELKEL: He may have some opposition from some quarters on the right but at the end of the day, I think it's going to be more talk and less walk.

KEITH: So far, the conservative Club for Growth, often a king-maker in Republican primaries is still just watching South Carolina. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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