GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (AP/WCIV) - Early on a Saturday morning at the American Legion Hall, Berkeley County Republicans gathered for a hearty platter of down home cooking. It's breakfast -- with a side of South Carolina politics.
"This morning, in my home town of Goose Creek, I'm announcing my candidacy for the U.S. Senate of South Carolina," Mace told the mostly packed hall.
Nancy Mace announced at a Berkeley County GOP breakfast she will run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the Republican primary in 2014.
While she is known as the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, she said Saturday she wants to be known as the person who can unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
"I believe our state desperately needs new leadership someone who truly understands the challenges before us and what's at stake and is willing to fight for the principles that make America great," she said.
A Charleston native, Mace runs a small public relations firm and became the first woman to graduate from The Citadel in 1999. She has sharply criticized Graham in the past several months for not being conservative enough.
She shares that criticism with other members of the GOP.
"There are some Republican Senators today who believe our Bill of Rights are up for debate," Mace said. "Unfortunately, our Senator has a track record of trusting this government and working to grow this government."
Now Mace wants to make it her business to bring a more conservative voice to the Senate.
"Running for political office was not my focus growing up. However, in the last decade or so, our government has taken a significant turn for the worse," she said. "Americans are waking up to the fact that our freedoms are being threatened. There are powerful forces in Washington that consider individual liberty pass and the Constitution dead letter.
She said the reason she decided to run for office has to do with her belief that the government is out of touch with the American people.
"Washington thinks it knows better than the people," she said. "The federal government has worked its way into nearly every corner of our lives, trying to solve every problem for us. And yet, we are still not better off for it."
While the goal is lofty, the financial hurdles to make it into a race with Graham are equally as high. South Carolina's senior Senator has an estimated $6 million in his campaign war chest.
Still, the political newcomer believes she can win.
"No one in this race is going to raise as much money or outspend Sen. Lindsey Graham. But what it's going to take is someone who can create a statewide network of grassroots support," Mace said.
Even though she has Lowcountry connections and a Citadel pedigree, Mace admits the campaign will be difficult. She's hoping her message will resonate with voters who want to see change in Washington.
Conservative leadership is one of the reason Bob Williams is supporting her. The retired professor taught her and thinks she has what it takes to win.
"She was a very good student. She's smart. And I think she'll do a good job. We need a breath of fresh air in Washington," Williams said.
State Sen. Lee Bright from Spartanburg says he also will enter the Republican primary soon. The only announced candidate to take on Graham is Anderson businessman Richard Cash.
Graham was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002.