Jaime Harrison, former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, announced Wednesday that he will take on Graham. He framed his candidacy around the idea of holding Trump accountable. Graham is “a guy who will say anything to stay in office. Lindsey O. Graham can’t lead us in any direction because he traded his moral compass for petty political gain,” Harrison said in a video message.
It’s a message that could work. While Trump won 55 percent of South Carolina voters in the 2016 election, only 43 percent of the state’s residents approve of the job he’s doing, according to a March survey from Winthrop University. Forty-six percent do not approve.
Harrison is likely banking on this increased dissatisfaction with Trump — and an energized and mobilized black electorate — to turn out to the polls at rates that they did not in 2016.
Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based political strategist, said higher turnout could play a pivotal role. “The dynamics of South Carolina — the mood and the temperature have changed and continue to change,” he told The Fix. “If you look at the 2018 midterms between African American voters and women, we had one million participants. So that kind of shows you how the state is trending.”
Even so, it’ll be tough for Harrison to win. As Politico explained: “The state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than two decades. Graham beat back multiple primary challengers in 2014 before cruising to reelection by double digits in the general election. South Carolina voted for Trump by 14 percentage points.”
Currently, a slight majority of South Carolina voters (51 percent) approve of Graham’s job performance.
To win while facing those numbers, Harrison will not only have to turn out voters but also over-perform with white working-class voters, as Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, did.
“You’ve got a Republican-Democratic gap in South Carolina that can range from about 170,000 to 370,000 depending on the cycle. You won’t make up that gap with disaffected Republicans or South Carolinians. I just don’t think there are that many of them when Graham’s approval ratings are hovering around 52 percent,” Jarrod Loadholt, a D.C.-based political strategist who has worked on multiple Southern campaigns, said. “That said, that gap isn’t insurmountable. There’s a path to victory.”
With millions of dollars in campaign funds on hand, Graham will be a hard opponent to defeat. For Harrison to win, it will take record black voter turnout — as well as winning over voters who historically do not vote for Democrats.