Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and his likely challenger, Democrat Jaime Harrison, have both raised more money from donors in South Carolina than anywhere else so far this year.
Still, most of their campaign contributions between Jan. 1 and March 31 came from outside the Palmetto State.
In the first three months of 2019, Graham raised more than $2 million, of which roughly $274,000 — or 17% — came from 267 S.C. donors. It’s more money than he has ever raised in a single fundraising quarter, a reflection of his increased popularity thanks to his alliance with President Donald Trump and his work in helping confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Harrison, the former state party chairman and current member of Democratic National Committee leadership, raised just north of $230,000, of which $34,500 — or 20% — came from 42 South Carolinians. He started fundraising in early February after officially forming his exploratory committee to unseat Graham.
For Graham, the ratio of out-of-state money to in-state dollars is in keeping with a tradition: Ever since 2012, he’s taken more cash from outside South Carolina than within, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Anthony Corrado, a professor at Colby College in Maine and an expert on campaign finance, said beginning as early as 2006, U.S. Senate candidates have gotten most of their money from out-of-state.
“At this stage of the campaign, it’s much higher than average,” Corrado acknowledged of the ratio from out-of-state to in-state dollars for both Graham and Harrison. “But the fact that Senate candidates are now receiving more than half of their money from outside of the state rather than inside of the state is not atypical, particularly when you have a senator who is as visible and been so prominently featured in the national news as Sen. Graham.”
Graham officially kicked off his re-election campaign in South Carolina last month with special guest Vice President Mike Pence, and he is also enjoying an influence boost as chairman of the powerful U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
“National Democrats and liberal billionaires are trying to defeat Senator Graham because he’s working with President Trump to confirm conservative judges, rebuild our military and secure our border, but the people of South Carolina are clearly standing with their senator,” Graham’s campaign manager, Scott Farmer, said in a statement Monday.
Eventually, the gap between out-of-state and in-state dollars should narrow, said Corrado, as the candidates start to spend more time campaigning in South Carolina. He explained that at this point it makes sense that, for both men, the second biggest fundraising source this quarter would come from donors in Washington, D.C. That’s where Graham is attending fundraisers scheduled around his work day, and where Harrison is traveling to connect with national Democrats.
Harrison anticipated from the start he’d get more out-of-state money than local dollars.
“There are not a lot of deep pockets to fund multimillion dollar campaigns in the state,” Harrison said in February, days before he announced his potential Senate candidacy. “Raising money outside of South Carolina ... is going to be a necessity.”
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, South Carolina is ranked 35 out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C., when it comes to political giving.
Back in February, Harrison told McClatchy it would be unrealistic to assume all of his cash would come in the form of small-dollar donations, defined as contributions under $200 and now considered a hallmark of a successful, grassroots-driven Democratic campaign. He also suspected he wouldn’t get money from major industry groups and corporate political action committees, or PACs.
“I hope the bulk of the money is coming from small dollar donors, but we represent a lot of poor people in South Carolina,” Harrison said. “I doubt I will get much PAC money at all, if you’re going up against a Republican who is an incumbent in the Senate, and there’s a hesitancy to support someone who they will deem as having a very hard chance of winning.”
As it turned out, roughly one-third of Harrison’s donations this quarter came from small-dollar donors, a proportion similar to those who gave to Graham. Unlike Graham, who enjoyed significant backing from so-called “special interests,” Harrison received no cash from corporate PACs.
Harrison earned $33,750, or 20%, of his total donations, from contributors in Washington, D.C. Ten thousand dollars came from the leadership PAC of U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., Harrison’s former boss and longtime mentor.
In a sign of Congressional Democrats’ familiarity with Harrison — who held senior positions on Clyburn’s team on Capitol Hill between 2006 and 2013 — Harrison received checks from leadership PACs affiliated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Three Democratic candidates for president also gave money to Harrison through their PACs as they court a well-known South Carolinian from a critical early primary state: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.