‘I used to respect him’: Jaime Harrison lambasts ‘feckless’ Lindsey Graham in final pitch to South Carolina voters

Griffin Connolly
·5 min read
South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison has cast Republican Senator Lindsey Graham as a serial ‘flip-flopper.' (Getty Images)
South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison has cast Republican Senator Lindsey Graham as a serial ‘flip-flopper.' (Getty Images)

Jaime Harrison spends his time these days envisioning a “New South,” he told supporters on Friday at a drive-in rally in Florence, South Carolina.

That “New South” will be “bold,” it will be “diverse,” and it will be devoid of politicians like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, whose rightward lurch during the Donald Trump presidency has suddenly put the Palmetto State’s once ruby-red Senate seat up for grabs.

Mr Harrison, who has pulled virtually even with Mr Graham in recent polling, has put the three-term senator’s recent record of partisanship and fealty to the president front and centre of his campaign.

“Despite the fact that we have some great people and some beautiful landscape here in South Carolina, we happen to have some feckless leaders. And there is no more feckless leader in this state than Lindsey Graham,” Mr Harrison said on Friday.

While Mr Harrison used to “respect” his opponent, he said, “something happened to him.”

“I used to respect him, I did. When John McCain was alive, Lindsey Graham was a different person. … Now we’re dealing with Lindsey Graham 2.0, and we’re going to give this Lindsey Graham 2.0 a one-way ticket back to Seneca or Mar-a-Lago or somewhere else,” Mr Harrison said, to a cacophony of beeps and honks from more than 200 cars in the parking lot of Florence’s Wilson High School.

Mr Harrison’s remarks on Friday fit a consistent pattern of attacks against the incumbent for being a serial “flip-flopper,” on everything from his broken commitment not to seat a Supreme Court justice in a presidential election year to to his about-face embracing Mr Trump, who the senator called “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” during the Republican presidential primaries in 2016.

The people of Florence, about an hour west of Charleston, represent the kinds of voters Mr Harrison needs to storm the polls over the next nine days if he is to topple Mr Graham in November.

Nearly 50 per cent of the greater Florence metropolitan area’s 200,000 residents are Black, the voter bloc that has most reliably cast ballots for Democrats since the middle of the last century.

Razor thin polling margins down the campaign’s home stretch and both candidates’ prodigious fundraising hauls have propelled the South Carolina Senate race into the national spotlight as Democrats look to reclaim a Senate majority by picking up a net of four seats on 3 November (or three seats plus the presidency).

After raising a record $57m in the crucial three-month stretch from July through September, Mr Harrison has found himself virtually tied in the polls with Mr Graham in a race rated either Tossup or Tilts Republican by every major US elections handicapper.

A New York Times/Siena survey from last week pegged Mr Graham ahead of Mr Harrison 46-40 per cent, but a subsequent survey from Morning Consult showed Mr Harrison leading 47-45.

Pollsters from Siena and the New York Times reported that Mr Graham received an uptick in support during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Amy Coney Barrett.

In more than a dozen interviews with voters in South Carolina over the last three days — from the sea-island community of Beaufort in the southern portion of the state all the way up to the swanky Charleston suburb of Mount Pleasant — nearly everyone The Independent spoke to who said they voted for Mr Graham applauded his support for Ms Barrett and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

At the South Carolina Senate debate on 3 October, Mr Graham framed the race as a choice between “capitalism versus socialism,” “conservative judges versus liberal judges,” and “law and order versus chaos.”

Tim Keisler, a pharmacist in his 50s who has lived in Charleston for 30 years, offered a simple four-word answer when asked why he cast an early ballot for Mr Graham on Thursday.

“I don’t like socialism,” Mr Keisler said, backing Mr Graham’s claim that Mr Harrison and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are Trojan horses for a socialist agenda from left-wing radicals overtaking the more moderate Democratic establishment in Washington.

“Here in the Deep South, your word is your bond,” Democratic state Representative Jerry Govan of Orangeburg, Mr Harrison’s hometown, said in an interview with The Independent on Saturday.

Mr Govan, the chairman of the South Carolina general assembly’s 44-member black caucus, was first elected to the state legislature in the same year, 1993, as Mr Graham, and despite their differences on policy, the two used to be friends, he said.

“Lindsey was what we called one of the good ones,” Mr Govan said. “He was a decent man. He called a spade a spade” even if that sometimes ruffled other Republican feathers at the statehouse.

But Mr Graham’s rush to embrace the president’s aggressive approach to immigration and his denigration of the Justice Department over the last three and a half years to stave off a GOP primary challenge from the right has irreparably damaged his longstanding reputation for bipartisan compromise and collegiality, both in Washington and back home.

“He's more focused on being Donald Trump’s golf partner or being a regular on Fox News, and not being a regular in the community here,” state Representative JA Moore of North Charleston said of the senator.

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