Local Republican booster Tom Hatfield faced criticism Monday after calling this weekend's devastating storms and floods a "lame excuse" for presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to cancel planned local campaign events.
Hatfield has since apologized, but not before drawing the ire of the S.C. Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore, who condemned Hatfield's initial comments as "absolutely embarrassing."
"Senator Graham simply can't do campaign events while people are burying their children and digging out of the storm," Moore wrote in email to Hatfield on Monday morning. "This type of behavior doesn't represent the Republicans that I know in your county."
Graham had been scheduled to make three stops in Beaufort County on Monday, including the noon meeting of the Hilton Head Island First Monday Republican Lunch Group, which Hatfield moderates.
But the campaign canceled the events Sunday as historic storms killed nine people, busted dams and forced thousands of South Carolinians to evacuate their homes and cars as rising water shut down hundreds of roads and stretches of interstates, according to state officials. A federal state of emergency has been called as thousands in the Midlands have no water and no power.
Hatfield took Graham to task shortly after the event cancellations in an email late Sunday afternoon.
"My personal opinion is that if he REALLY wanted to tell us why he should be our next President he would find the ways and means to get here by noon tomorrow," Hatfield wrote. "This is nothing more than a lame excuse to (not) come here."
He went on to say that although the First Monday group typically refrains from "picking one candidate over another ... in this case, it is again my personal opinion that the Senator has a chance of being our Republican nominee somewhere between zero and none."
Hatfield said he now regrets the comments. He retracted them and apologized in an email sent to First Monday group members Monday morning.
"I goofed yesterday. I had no business writing what I did," Hatfield said Monday. "When I made (the comments) I had no idea that 75 miles of Interstate 95 were closed.
"It's incredible," he continued. "The 23 years we've lived here, I've never seen anything like that in Columbia. We dodged a bullet here in Beaufort County, especially in southern Beaufort County, with the few inches of rain we got."
The apology satisfied Moore.
Reached Monday morning, an official with Graham's campaign declined to comment.
While the rains and floods have affected most of the state from Charleston to Georgetown to the Upstate, Beaufort County has remained relatively unscathed.
Monday's campaign events would have been Graham's first in Beaufort County since he announced he would run for president this summer.
The campaign plans to reschedule the events, according to the Beaufort County Republican Party. New dates have not yet been announced.
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- Live blog: Keeping up with SC's extreme rain event