HOLLYWOOD, S.C. – Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison crisscrossed South Carolina on closing-argument bus tours this weekend, the incumbent pointing to his ability to get things done for constituents and the challenger arguing that change is needed in the Senate to benefit the state.
Graham "was a senator that I had some respect for, because I thought, at the end of the day, he would do what was in the best interest of the nation and the people of South Carolina,” Harrison said Sunday as he campaigned. “But I was disappointed. I think many of you were disappointed as well.”
Graham, who has won his previous general election contests by double-digit margins, admits the race with Harrison has been more challenging than he expected.
On Saturday, Harrison made stops in northwestern South Carolina, a heavily Republican area. Graham stumped in the Republican stronghold of Horry County, where 67% of votes cast went for Donald Trump in 2016.
“You know what I’ve got going for me? You,” Graham told supporters Saturday, saying the area represented a ”red wave” of GOP support.
On Sunday, Graham planned to campaign along the state’s coast, while Harrison was in the Charleston County town of Hollywood, which is 59% Black and in a county that Hillary Clinton won by about 8 percentage points in 2016.
More than 1 million people had already cast their ballots in a race that drew sums of money unheard of in South Carolina politics. In October, Harrison became the first-ever U.S. Senate candidate to raise more than $100 million, continuing to bring in contributions in the weeks since. On Saturday, Graham told The Associated Press that he had “passed the $100 million” mark in terms of his own fundraising, chuckling in disbelief both at the monetary demand his race had necessitated, and the fact he’d been able to meet it.
Throughout the campaign, including several times during Sunday news shows, Graham made televised pleas for more contributions, which he says have continued to roll in.
“I’m in demand right now, our campaign — ‘how’d you do it, what are you doing, could you help us?’” Graham told the AP Saturday, of other Republicans asking him how he was able to raise his own fundraising toward Harrison’s levels. “So when this is over, we’re going to sit down and figure out how we did it ourselves.”
The confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which Graham oversaw as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, also allowed him to maintain high national visibility. Yet her nomination and that of Justices Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 gave Harrison an opportunity to highlight some of what he characterized as the senator’s changing opinion on how to deal with nominations.
Part of Harrison’s argument against Graham has also been what he’s portrayed as the senator’s malleability, an over eagerness to do President Trump’s bidding despite having harshly criticized him during the 2016 campaign.
It’s a critique Graham has faced in the past from some South Carolina conservatives, seeing his bipartisan work on issues like immigration reform as weakness. Now, some of those ultra conservatives are rallying around Graham, endorsing him as the contest with Harrison tightened, and some surveys showed a neck-and-neck contest. Last week, a group composed of voters from myriad organizations with tea party roots endorsed Graham against the “socialist” Harrison, citing “right to life” issues and Graham’s work to confirm conservative justices as some of their reasons.
Not all Republicans support Graham, though. Joe Reynolds, a Merchant Marine chief engineer who ran against Graham in this year’s primary, and describes himself as a moderate, said he voted for Harrison and still sees the senator as too eager to attach himself to whoever is in power, for his own advantage.
“The problem with Sen. Graham is that, if Trump is president, he’s going to be all in with Trump,” Reynolds told the AP on Saturday. “But conservatives, they’re fooling themselves if they think Joe Biden is elected, and Lindsey Graham won’t be the first one through the White House door of a Biden administration. ... He’ll change his stripes in a heartbeat if it’s going to suit Lindsey Graham.”
On Saturday, Graham told the AP he’s used to that criticism but sees it as nothing more than politics in an ever-more-contentious environment, reiterating his stance that he does whatever he feels is in the best interest of his constituents.
“People who want outcomes are going to be with you when you’re on their side,” Graham said. “Sometimes they don’t agree, but they always know I’m trying. Liberals applaud me when I do things like immigration reform and I vote for their judges. Now they want to destroy me because I dared vote for Trump and I stood up for Kavanaugh. I’ve got conservatives coming back stronger than ever.”
On Sunday in Hollywood, Harrison closed out by citing what he saw as South Carolina’s ongoing struggles during Graham’s tenure, like hospital closures and infrastructural problems.
“It only takes common sense, folks,” Harrison said. “If he’s been there that long, and he ain’t delivering, then it’s time to send him home.”
On Monday, both Graham and Harrison planned additional stops before campaign-ending rallies in their respective hometown areas.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.