The Democrat’s impressive haul is critical, given Graham’s cash-on-hand advantage. Graham currently has $12.8 million banked for his campaign, while Harrison now has $8 million on hand.
Republicans are at risk of losing their majority in the Senate Majority, and increasingly, it looks like—wait for it—South Carolina might have something to do with it.
Yes, South Carolina—which hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1976. It may be hard to believe a state Trump won by 14 points in 2016 has a legitimately competitive Senate race on its hands, but numbers don’t lie.
According to numbers released last week, Jaime Harrison, the state’s Democratic candidate for Senate, substantially out-raised incumbent U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham during the first three months of 2020, setting a state record for campaign fundraising in a quarter in the process. Harrison raised $7.3 million from 500,000 donations, while Graham only raised $5.6 million, according to releases from both campaigns.
“We’re so grateful for this outpouring of support from everyday people who are looking for leadership that puts them first,” Harrison campaign spokesman Guy King said in a statement.
Graham’s first quarter fundraising haul more than doubled the amount he raised in the fourth quarter of 2019 ($3.5 million). Graham raised $3.9 million in that quarter, which was the previous state record for single-quarter fundraising.
“South Carolinians clearly appreciate Sen. Graham’s steadfast leadership, conservative record of accomplishment, and relentless work on behalf of his constituents,” Scott Farmer, Graham’s campaign manager, told the Post & Courier.
Harrison’s impressive haul is critical, given Graham’s cash-on-hand advantage. Graham currently has $12.8 million banked for his campaign, while Harrison now has $8 million on hand. The race is on pace to become the most expensive one in South Carolina history, according to Post & Courier.
Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, is within striking distance of Graham, according to a March poll from pollster Cornell Belcher and his firm Brilliant Corners. Graham holds a slim, 46-42 lead according to the poll, which also found that 58% of likely voters think it’s time for someone new to represent the state in the Senate. Only 33% of those surveyed thought Graham deserved to be re-elected. This follows a December poll from Change Research and The Post and Courier that found Graham leading Harrison by only two points.
The fundraising figures and polls make it clear that Graham, a three-term incumbent, faces what could be the toughest fight of his political career in a year in which Republicans will be fighting to defend their 53-47 Senate majority.
Graham has positioned himself as a staunch ally of President Trump, an ironic stance given his previous comments about Trump when they were both running for President in 2015 and 2016. During tha race, Graham blasted Trump, calling him a “jackass,” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” The senator has since become one of Trump’s foremost apologists and one of the most polarizing figures in politics.
Graham has recently come under fire for—much like Trump—his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Graham initially downplayed the coronavirus, inaccurately comparing it to the flu in a March 3 interview with Carolina Connection, a South Carolina television station.
“It’s a lot like the flu, and it spreads like the flu,” he said, adding that “the things you would do to avoid the flu, you need to do here to avoid the virus.” He also said that the coronavirus is “a serious problem, but it’s not the plague.”
Graham also misled the public about the availability of COVID-19 tests, telling CNN on March 4 that testing would become “more robust” by the end of that week and that he had been promised that more than one million testing kits “are going out the door.” More than one month later, access to testing remains an issue and only 3.2 million Americans have been tested thus far, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Graham also tried to make coronavirus-related unemployment benefits less generous in March, when Congress passed the CARES Act, an emergency coronavirus relief bill. Graham said that expanding the unemployment program and providing the tens of millions of newly jobless Americans with an additional $600 a week might entice nurses to quit their jobs in the middle of the pandemic.
“You’re going to have all these well-trained nurses, they’re going to make $24 an hour on unemployment,” Graham said on March 25. “You’re literally incentivizing taking people out of the workforce at a time when we need critical infrastructure supply for the workers.”
There have been scattered reports of nurses quitting, but they’ve left their jobs not because they prefer unemployment benefits, but rather because they don’t feel safe due to the severe shortages of personal protective equipment.
While Harrison’s campaign is still something of a longshot—the race is considered a solid Republican hold by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report—it has gained national attention, no doubt aiding Harrison’s fundraising efforts.
Harrison is running unopposed in the state’s Democratic primary, while Graham is expected to easily fend off three Republican opponents in his June primary. The two will then square off on Election Day, Nov. 3.
If Harrison somehow pulls off the upset, it could be the difference between Democrats winning a Senate majority and another two years of Mitch McConnell running the Senate.