Politics & Government

SC Democrat Jaime Harrison attacks Graham as ‘political windsock’ in US Senate bid

After months of exploring a bid to unseat Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham in the 2020 election, former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison has made it official.

Harrison released a three-minute video early Wednesday announcing his bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Graham since 2003. With his entry into the race, Harrison becomes the second Democrat seeking his party’s nomination. Gloria Bromell Tinubu, a former Georgia state lawmaker who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012 and 2014 and for lieutenant governor in 2018, has already announced a bid for the U.S. Senate seat.

In the video, Harrison shares his origin story and attacks Graham. Standing in front of his childhood home, Harrison talks about being born to a 16-year-old mother and being raised by his grandparents in Orangeburg, who worked in construction and textiles. As a child, Harrison recalls helping his grandparents read their bills and promising to buy them a home after falling into foreclosure.

“And when a con artist took their life savings, I pledged to become a lawyer to protect innocent folks,” he says in the video.

Harrison uses the video to cast himself as a candidate who will “fight for all South Carolinians, regardless of party,” pushing funding to expand health care services to poor, rural communities and easing student loan debt.

“All (Graham) cares about is pandering to try to get the attention of the president, and that’s not why we sent him to Washington, D.C.,” Harrison told The State in an interview Wednesday.

Graham’s campaign declined comment Wednesday.

Graham, the Senate Judiciary Chairman, has made headlines and drawn national criticism for defending President Donald Trump from calls for impeachment.

Graham, a lawyer who was one of the managers for then-president Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial — and was one of Trump’s staunchest critics before becoming his loyal defender — has been called out for seeming hypocrisy.

“I used to think that this was a guy who was a statesman, right? A guy who could stand above the fray and help solve the issues,” Harrison said of Graham, while being interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow late Tuesday ahead of his campaign announcement. He continued: “But I’ve seen he’s what (political commentator) George Will called a ‘political windsock.’ He’s a chameleon that has changed his colors.”

Harrison, associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has already received support from national Democrats, including his former boss, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C..

Tinubu, in a statement, said South Carolina voters are tired of “politics as usual” from Washington insiders.

“Often, in our political history, South Carolinians haven’t had much choice on the ballot. But, now we do,” Tinubu said in a statement. “The recent past has highlighted the importance of having a strong, experienced woman in office,” and said she looks forward to leading the charge for rural economic development and addressing challenges facing South Carolina schools and communities.

Defeating Graham, who has amassed more than $4.6 million, will be an uphill fight in conservative South Carolina, where a Democrat has not been elected to statewide office since 2006 and has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than two decades.

Harrison, though, told Maddow that Democrats are on the verge “of a renaissance in the South.” He cited Charleston Democrat Joe Cunningham’s upset victory in South Carolina’s 1st District congressional race last year and the narrow losses of Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida, respectively.

Graham kicked off his re-election campaign in Myrtle Beach in March alongside Vice President Mike Pence, and has pledged to continue efforts championing the military, growing the economy, fixing the border and supporting Trump.

“Democrats have spent months attacking Senator Graham for standing up for conservative values and refusing to give in to the liberal smear campaign against Justice Brett Kavanaugh,” S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement.

McKissick continued: “Gloria Tinubu and Jaime Harrison hope to (exact) revenge by rallying liberals across America to their cause, but they are going to learn the hard way that South Carolinians appreciate the leadership that Lindsey Graham has brought to the issues they care about.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.