With a month to go before the state’s Democratic presidential primary, candidates and cable news producers would normally be planning their final blitzes through the Palmetto State, orchestrating photo ops with fellow politicians and relatable working folk before politely disappearing until the next contested presidential primary. But in 2020, one candidate challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham statewide could change that.
Could Jaime Harrison — an Orangeburg-raised, Yale-educated former lobbyist — help make South Carolina a factor come November?
As much as party leaders love to hold up our “First in the South” presidential primaries, South Carolina is rarely a player by the time the general election rolls around. For decades, Republicans’ one-party rule in the state has meant that a huge chunk of our elections are not competitive. And blame it on partisan gerrymandering and the electoral college, but the state has been solidly red on the national level since before U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings retired, leaving the state with two Republican senators for the first time in the modern era.
Driven by his own confessed desire to be “relevant” after the passing of former U.S. Sen. John McCain, Graham has set himself up for a serious challenge this year by Harrison. The campaign strategy almost writes itself as Graham’s support of President Donald Trump becomes even more inscrutable. Harrison, while unproven on the ballot, may very well have the political chops to defeat Graham on his own, but both of their fates are tied to Trump.
By simply having a strong statewide candidate to choose from in November, Democrats down the ballot stand to benefit. In Charleston, for example, where U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham is also running for reelection, Democratic voters will have at least two consequential votes to cast even assuming that the state’s electoral college votes will go to Trump. Same goes for the 2nd District where Congressman Joe Wilson has a credible challenger in Adair Ford Boroughs. And in Clyburn’s 2nd District, which includes Harrison’s hometown, increased turnout could prove to be a counterweight to reliably Republican corners of the state.
Harrison faces long odds, for sure. But he has already proven to be a capable fundraiser, pulling in a reported $7.5 million total so far, a remarkable sum dwarfed only by Graham’s own $10.5 million warchest, according to reports. But in the eyes of national donors, success begets success, and if Harrison can be an effective messenger and national polling shows that the party has a chance to defeat Trump and his most-shameless ally, you can bet that the money will be there.
In 2014, Graham beat state Sen. Brad Hutto with 54 percent of the vote. Hutto never really stood much of a chance, but was able to mount a serious challenge nonetheless. Perhaps most importantly, 2020 is not 2014. Trump, Graham, and Harrison will all be on every single ballot in the state. It’s hard to tell whether there’s another 5 percent out there at this point, but it’s safe to say that people will be watching South Carolina in November.