COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – With his defeat of three little-known GOP challengers behind him, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is officially embarking on the next phase of his quest for a fourth term: a general election matchup with Democrat Jaime Harrison already on pace to become the most expensive in South Carolina history.
And, just hours after Grahamâ€™s victory in Tuesdayâ€™s GOP primary, Harrison laid down a challenge to the veteran lawmaker, asking him to participate in a series of four debates across South Carolina, including one at a historically black college or university.
â€œAll South Carolinians deserve the opportunity to hear from their candidates for U.S. Senate,â€ Harrison wrote in a letter to Graham.
Harrison faced no primary opposition on Tuesday. Graham, 64, bested fellow Republicans Duke Buckner, Michael Lapierre and Joe Reynolds in Tuesdayâ€™s primary election. Two Libertarians and one Constitution Party candidate also filed to seek the seat.
Grahamâ€™s popularity among Republicans in his home state has recently fluctuated along with his relationship to President Donald Trump, who is supporting his reelection bid and campaigned with him in the state in February. A year ago, all of South Carolinaâ€™s statewide-elected officials endorsed Graham, as has Vice President Mike Pence, who helped kick off Grahamâ€™s reelection campaign last year.
Following his victory, Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was â€œjust getting warmed upâ€ for the November election, which he said would â€œprovide voters with a stark choice between the Democratsâ€™ socialist agenda or security and prosperity through free enterprise and security.â€
On Tuesday, the 44-year-old Harrison congratulated Graham but said in a news release that South Carolina voters are â€œfed up with Lindsey taking this seat for granted, and they are demanding a senator who will put their needs ahead of his own.â€
Harrison, an associate chairman with the Democratic National Committee and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has from the start aimed to draw national attention. That has helped him to spur the fundraising and grassroots organizing that is crucial to flipping a Senate seat in the deeply red state.
He received backing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last spring and has since gotten support from former Vice President and presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as well as former 2020 hopefuls U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
Both Graham and Harrison have posted record-setting fundraising hauls in recent quarters. Over the course of the campaign, Harrison has raised nearly $15 million, mounting aggressive email fundraising campaigns and holding virtual events during the coronavirus outbreak.
Graham has taken in a total of $21 million, according to Federal Election Commission records. Despite holding no fundraisers during Trumpâ€™s impeachment trial and suspending two weeks of fundraising because of the pandemic, Grahamâ€™s campaign said he had the third-highest fundraising total among all Republican senators during this yearâ€™s first quarter.
U.S. Army veteran Bob Barnwell, a self-avowed Graham supporter, voted absentee for the senator ahead of Tuesdayâ€™s primary, in part because of the outbreak. The 72-year-old retired nurse was recently released from the hospital, where he was treated for several weeks after contracting COVID-19.
â€œLindsey Graham is an outstanding senator, military veteran, retired Army judge, Christian man and native South Carolinian who loves this state,â€ Barnwell told The Associated Press on Thursday evening. â€œHe is a powerful voice in the U.S. Senate for the right to life for the unborn and older citizens.â€
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP