Jaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham

Posted 30 days ago


South Carolina's Jaime Harrison is on a mission to convince Democrats and voters he is up to the challenge of toppling Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) in the Palmetto State’s closely watched Senate race this year.

Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, is widely considered an underdog in his effort to unseat a three-term incumbent in a conservative state that reelected Graham by 15 points in 2014 and voted for President Trump by a similar margin in 2016.

Harrison has been able to attract buzz around his insurgent campaign from national Democrats who are eager to unseat one of the White House’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, garnering a slate of endorsements from high-profile lawmakers such as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D), a titan in South Carolina politics.

He also outraised Graham in the first quarter and again in the pre-primary period — though Graham's $13.9 million bank account is still more than twice as big — and has benefited from a number of investments from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

But convincing the political world he can actually win is a different matter. The Senate race is rated as "Likely Republican" by The Cook Political Report and is not even listed in RealClearPolitics's top Senate races.

Harrison is hinging his strategy on channeling fury among some voters over Graham's transition from Trump detractor during the 2016 race to Trump whisperer and leveraging his own longstanding ties to South Carolina to attract a broad coalition of Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans to his campaign.

But South Carolina remains unfriendly territory for Democrats, having not elected a Democratic senator in more than two decades. And while Graham has irked some moderates by shedding his criticism of Trump and becoming a confidant of the president, he’s endeared himself to the GOP’s conservative base.

In an interview with The Hill, Harrison expressed confidence that the South Carolina senator has turned off a sizable number of moderate Republicans with his evolution from “Graham 1.0,” who criticized Trump, to “Graham 2.0,” who is one of his closest allies.

“This is a guy who has lost all support with Democrats, and he’s not going to get that support back. He has lost a lot of support ... with independents, because he used to win overwhelmingly with independents. And he has garnered some support from the right, but I believe that that support is extremely weak at this point in time,” Harrison said.

“So we are looking at building the coalition that Lindsey Graham 1.0 used to have, one where we will have almost unanimous support from the Democratic Party, one where we will beat him with independents in the state, and one where we will find moderate Republicans who are tired of the heightened partisanship and the sycophantism that Lindsey Graham has conducted.”

Graham’s transformation from calling Trump a “kook” to singing his praises, reflective of the larger shift among the GOP, has made him a top boogeyman for Democrats and helped supercharge national support around Harrison’s campaign.

Harrison kicked his anti-Graham campaign into high gear this week with a blistering ad accusing Graham of “opposing help for South Carolinians” during the coronavirus pandemic and asking, “What happened to Lindsey Graham?”

“As long as he continues to highlight the failures of Graham and elevate what he would do differently, I think the buzz will only grow,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist.

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