COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Lindsey Graham and his Democratic challenger are set to meet in their first face-to-face matchup, amid record-breaking fundraising and a Supreme Court nomination debate that means Graham will be spending much of the remaining campaign in Washington.
On Saturday, Graham and Jaime Harrison debate in Columbia in their first of three scheduled meetings. Two more debates are slated for later in October, although Washington politics may throw a wrench into that schedule, as Graham - chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee - stumps not only for his own reelection but also shepherds President Donald Trump’s high court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, through the Senate.
With Trump promising a quick confirmation, Graham has said hearings will begin Oct. 12, and a vote is expected Oct. 29, just days ahead of the election. Acknowledging it will be tough to stop Barrett’s confirmation, Democrats have stated a preference for waiting until after the presidential election so the winner can choose the next justice.
At the helm of a process that will include days of televised hearings, Graham will be in the national spotlight in what is sure to be a contentious confirmation process, a position he has said may benefit his own political situation. Referencing his fiery defense of Trump’s previous nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, during 2018 confirmation hearings, Graham said in a South Carolina event last month that “lightning has struck again” with the president’s opportunity to nominate another justice, adding he would be “leading the charge” to ensure Barrett’s confirmation.
“That is my job, and I believe that I am doing what the people of South Carolina want me to do in this regard,” Graham said.
After one committee member, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, said he had tested positive for the coronavirus, Graham said on Friday he had been tested “out of an abundance of caution” and that his own results had come back negative.
Harrison’s campaign told The Associated Press that he had also tested negative on Friday.
Harrison, an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has said he felt Graham’s obligations in Washington could work to his own benefit as he stumps in South Carolina, having the state to himself during much of the campaign’s remaining weeks.
“We will get an opportunity to really have a conversation with the people here in South Carolina, while he’s off doing what he likes doing, which is being in the limelight,” Harrison said in a recent interview with AP. “I relish the opportunity to have the space to myself.”
Graham and Harrison’s first debate also comes as the campaigns boast raising more than $30 million apiece throughout the race, and two recent surveys show the candidates in a dead heat. Two back-to-back Quinnipiac University polls have marked the candidates with matched support among likely voters. On Thursday, Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe - whose name has not been included in polling - announced he was throwing his support behind Graham, although how much that could boost Graham is unclear, as his name will still be on ballots.
Harrison has been able to use polling to capitalize on bringing in even more cash, saying in mid-September he took in $2 million in the two days following a Quinnipiac survey. Lindsey Must Go, a political action committee that supports Harrison, is among outside groups pumping money into the race, launching a billboard campaign Friday featuring a 2016 quote from Trump calling Graham “one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.”
Trump carried South Carolina by double digits over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Republicans control both legislative chambers, all statewide offices and most of the state’s congressional seats. South Carolina is assumed to be safely in his reelection column, and Trump has not announced plans to stump there for himself — or Graham, who is expressing confidence in his reelection chances.
“Here is what I want to say to all the liberals talking about South Carolina: we are going to kick your ass,” he said Friday during a campaign event in Myrtle Beach.