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Originally published Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 10:21 AM

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Immigration reform advocates target South Carolina

Business leaders, Republicans and religious groups in favor of overhauling immigration laws announced a new focus Wednesday on South Carolina, where a key Senate supporter, Republican Lindsey Graham, is up for re-election.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

Business leaders, Republicans and religious groups in favor of overhauling immigration laws announced a new focus Wednesday on South Carolina, where a key Senate supporter, Republican Lindsey Graham, is up for re-election.

Graham, who faces a potential GOP primary challenge from the right, already has been targeted by a group opposed to immigration reform, Numbers USA, which began running TV and radio ads against him last month accusing him of promoting "amnesty."

Now several groups on the other side of the issue are wading in with ads meant to bolster Graham, a member of a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate that's crafting legislation to secure the border, ensure workplace enforcement, smooth legal immigration and provide eventual citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

The groups involved are Republicans for Immigration Reform, a fund-raising group founded by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Partnership for a New American Economy, made up of mayors and business leaders; and the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of religious groups and leaders who support overhauling immigration laws.

Republicans for Immigration Reform and Partnership for a New American Economy announced a one-week, $60,000 TV ad buy Wednesday that features the head of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce extolling Graham as "right on target in fighting for immigration reform today, he knows how important it is for South Carolina businesses."

At the same time, the Evangelical Immigration Table announced a five-figure radio ad buy that, while it doesn't mention Graham by name, links support for immigration reform to the Biblical injunction to care for strangers.

"Please join a growing movement of Christians asking our political leaders for immigration solutions rooted in biblical values," the Rev. Jim Goodroe of the Spartanburg County Baptist Network says in the ad. "Our South Carolina elected officials need your prayers and to hear your voice."

Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told reporters on a conference call that Graham's "courageous leadership" on immigration should be supported. "We are doing our best to let South Carolinians know how proud they should be of their senator," Land said.

South Carolina also is home to Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, head of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration, and the religious leaders said they were aiming their message at him, too.

At the same time the religious and business groups were careful to couch their message in terms that could appeal to conservative voters who've been skeptical of overhauling immigration laws in South Carolina and elsewhere. Immigrant labor is increasingly important in South Carolina, partly to support the tourism industry at its coastal resorts, and officials said the economic message could resonate with all voters.

"Our job here is to get the voters to understand that this is about business and not about emotional politics," Ike McCleese, head of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, told reporters.

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