Can Lindsey Graham lose South Carolina? A Senate upset is possible
An epic political battle is taking place in South Carolina, with Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of the President, two decades younger than an African American challenger, and raising Democratic hopes for a Senate seat in Trump.
Graham, who was taken out of donations by Democrat Jaime Harrison and glued to Donald Trump's hip on issues such as immigration and Supreme Court nominations, is threatened like never before in a state where his Republican Party runs the local legislature, the governor's mansion and has controlled both seats in the US Senate for at least 15 years.
As Trump's fortune plummets along with his poll numbers, the Democrats are watching possible reversals in several other states to regain control of the Senate.
But suddenly South Carolina - a traditionally conservative bastion that Harrison describes as the heir to the slave-holding "Old South" - is at play, despite Graham's repeated claims that both he and Trump will win re-election in 17 days.
"Lindsey Graham is scared," Harrison said on Saturday in North Charleston in front of a crowd where supporters honked their approval for a car campaign to allow social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
"He's nervous and should be," added Harrison, 44. "Because the people of South Carolina want to give him a one-way ticket home!"
- 'Rise like a phoenix' -
A Harrison victory would send shockwaves through American politics, especially because South Carolina - where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861 - would be the first US state ever to be represented by two black senators at the same time.
The other state Senator, Tim Scott, is a Republican.
Harrison, whose aunt had died of Covid-19 earlier that year, remembered growing up in poverty and doing his homework in the dark when his family couldn't pay the electricity bill.
"I know what tough times are," said the Yale graduate and former Democratic Party leader of South Carolina, citing the situation of his grandparents, who raised him.
"On November 3rd, the people of South Carolina will close the book on the old south and write a brand new book called New South that is full of audacity, diversity and inclusion," Harrison said as the car horns reached a crescendo .
"And from the ashes we will rise like a phoenix."
- Abandoned parking lot -
In his vulnerable position, 65-year-old Graham campaigned in Palmetto State on Friday and got off a campaign bus that contained a larger-than-life picture of the Senator - just to highlight how it is being passed by Harrison, who surpasses her hit a staggering record of $ 57 million in the third quarter.
"Help me pay for the bus!" he was only half-jokingly begging a few dozen followers in an otherwise deserted parking lot near Charleston.
Most of them appeared to be tied to Graham's campaign or the party apparatus, and formed a remarkable contrast to the campaign event of hooligan Harrison.
Why is a conservative star listening to the president and helping lead Trump's candidates to the Supreme Court in danger in ruby South Carolina?
Democrats and some Republicans point to Graham's reversals on two key issues.
He loathed Trump in 2016 and then hugged him after winning the presidency. He also vowed to turn down a new judiciary's approval in an election year, only to become a strong advocate of Amy Coney Barrett's approval of the Senate before the election.
"What happened is Lindsey Graham shot himself in the foot, so it's tight," said Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party's Black Caucus, in a telephone interview.
Graham's supporters say the South Carolinians will look past his flip-flops.
"I think Republicans will forgive him for these things. Things change over time," said 68-year-old Debra Bays, a volunteer party that knocks on the door for Trump and Graham.
South Carolina is changing too. Immigrants are moving into the state, and the lowlands along the coast are decidedly purple now.
Attorney Bennett Crites, who cast his vote at an early polling station in North Charleston on Friday, said there are many South Carolinians "disappointed with the work Graham has done".
"So it would be a shock if (Harrison) did it, but I wouldn't be surprised either," he added.
Despite polls showing Trump falling short of Biden and RealClearPolitics, which labeled the South Carolina Senate contest a mistake, Graham insisted that re-election prospects for him and Trump, whose venomous tone irritated the Senator, are improving.
"He can be a handful who can stand in the way of his own success," Graham told AFP, but the presidency is not a "personality contest" either.
"As we get closer to Election Day, there will be a comparison of where the country under his leadership will go with that of the Democratic Party, and I think it's getting better for us every day."
Graham bumped his elbow into his supporters, but wore a mask when they took selfies while attacking Democrats to promote "the most radical movement in (US) history".
But Democratic voters see Harrison as a struggle for fairness - especially in access to health care - for everyday Americans.
"He's like a breath of fresh air," said 74-year-old historian Don Doyle at Harrison's rally, "and he's giving Lindsey a run for his money."
mlm / dw / tom
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