Non-South Carolinians might be amused to hear Republicans debate whether Graham is conservative enough. Four years before being elected to the Senate he was one of 13 House managers for President Bill Clinton's impeachment. He sharply criticizes Obama at times, calling presidential budget plans "a road map to disaster."
Like his pal and mentor Arizona Sen. John McCain, however, Graham often carves an independent path. Despite conservative attacks on Republican senators who have voted to confirm Obama's judicial nominees, Graham says presidents should get their choices barring something that's clearly disqualifying.
"I don't know how to construct a world where we get all of our judges, and they never get any of theirs," he said.
Graham says he would consider higher tax revenues in exchange for serious changes to Medicare and Social Security. He says immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Both stands are anathema to many conservative activists.
Graham most recently drew their fire for joining McCain in denouncing Paul's highly publicized filibuster. Paul — a libertarian Republican weighing a presidential bid — demanded White House assurances that unmanned aircraft will not be used to kill American citizens on U.S. soil and not engaged in combat.
Graham called the question groundless and defended Obama's use of deadly drones against terrorist suspects overseas. He shrugged off the resulting torrent of angry tweets and e-mails, saying he and Paul get along fine.
"Rand and I play golf together," Graham said. They differ on surveillance and other anti-terrorism policies, he said, "but these differences have been around forever in the Republican Party."
Graham supports a "big-tent" GOP, which is disdained by those conservatives who say Republicans have become too wishy-washy and too willing to compromise.
"Partisan ideas, on big issues, never fare well over time," he said. He cited Obama's embattled overhaul of health care as an example.
As for the nation's economic challenges, he said, "the path off the road to becoming Greece is a shared path."
If the Republican Party is to thrive, Graham said, it must have "tea party libertarians, tea party conservatives, married up with traditional Republicans. That's the coalition of the future."
So far, most South Carolina Republicans seem disinclined to punish him for that vision.
Collins reported from South Carolina.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.