Graham, who many political observers consider a likely Republican candidate for governor, spent an estimated $1 million of his own money on a polished media campaign that culminated in May with a
to urge lawmakers to cap the state's gasoline tax.
"It's a phenomenon -- the Bill Graham phenomenon -- but it's a very well orchestrated phenomenon," said Peace College political science professor David McLennan.
McLennan said Graham, with the guidance of former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer, has a "knack" for jumping on hot-button issues. His latest target: illegal immigration.
A statewide media blitz began Monday that calls for a tougher stance on illegal immigrants that includes legislation. Graham, chairman of North Carolina Conservatives United, said illegal immigration is burdening taxpayers and jeopardizing the integrity of the state's elections.
"I want everyone to be educated and aware of these issues," Graham said. "Illegal immigration is something that every voter needs to understand." North Carolina ranks seventh in the nation with almost 400,000 illegal immigrants, according to the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization.
In his group's latest advertisement, Graham attacks illegal immigrants for abusing the state's education and health care programs. He also questions the state's electoral process, which he suggests may be ripe for fraud.
"Now we need to pass a law that prevents illegal immigrants from getting a driver's license and requires a photo ID to vote, because a nation of immigrants must also be a nation of laws," Graham says in the ad.
"The gas tax certainly affects people in their pocketbooks and their wallets," McLennan said. "And the immigration debate is one where everybody's got an opinion."
McLennan said he credits Graham, also chairman of North Carolina Conservatives United, for crafting a conservative outsider image that never includes a word about a run for office.
"The question is sustainability," McLennan said. "Can he keep it up?"
Politics is a marathon that comes down to momentum. The Republican primary for governor is still two years and many more political ads away.
Graham will step up his latest issues campaign with a news conference on Thursday.
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