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Friday, September 25, 2020

'Help me': Graham begs for cash in tighter-than-expected race


Lindsey Graham started the summer with more cash in the bank than any Republican senator other than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But now he’s begging for money.

Twice on Thursday, Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went on Fox News Channel and implored viewers to donate to his campaign against Democrat Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, a closer-than-expected contest that Republicans need to win to protect their majority.

“I’m getting overwhelmed,” Graham told conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity Thursday night. “LindseyGraham.com. Help me. They’re killing me, money-wise. Help me. You helped me last week — help me again. LindseyGraham.com.”

The story of how Graham became so desperate for cash illustrates the expensive, toss-up battle to control the Senate and the energy around President Donald Trump’s pending Supreme Court nomination. Grassroots Democrats are hyper-activated to take on Republican leaders like Graham, who once burnished a moderate reputation but has aligned closely with Trump.

Even in a state like South Carolina — which hasn’t voted Democratic for president since 1976 and hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since Fritz Hollings won his final term in 1998 — it’s left even the best-funded Republicans in relatively safe seats drowning under a wave of Democratic cash that is cresting with the upcoming court fight.

What happened

Graham’s pleas have escalated over the past week since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, but trouble has been looming for the third-term senator for some time now. Harrison has outraised and outspent Graham in every fundraising period this year, and the polls have the candidates running neck-and-neck, despite Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in the state.

Harrison, the former state Democratic Party chairman, brought in $14 million during the second quarter of this year, nearly lapping Graham’s $8.4 million. And the Democrat shelled out $11.8 million during that period, nearly double Graham’s $6.2 million.

Graham ended the quarter with $15 million in the bank to just $10.2 million for Harrison. But since then, Harrison’s fundraising has only picked up.

Harrison collected a combined $14.1 million from online donors via ActBlue, the Democratic-aligned fundraising platform, in July and August — more than his total fundraising for the whole second quarter, with a month left to go in the third quarter. And Harrison’s campaign said he raised $2 million in 48 hours alone earlier this month, after a Quinnipiac University poll showed the two men deadlocked in the race.

Meanwhile, Graham — who once pledged that, just as he opposed an election-year Supreme Court nominee from then-President Barack Obama, he would oppose one from a Republican president — is set to play a key role in a new Supreme Court confirmation process, and Harrison's money will likely keep flowing in.

Ginsburg’s death, and Republicans’ immediate insistence on filling the seat in the current Congress and before the end of Trump’s term, has supercharged Democratic fundraising. Harrison’s campaign declined to disclose just how much he’s taken in so far — either in the week since Ginsburg’s passing or in the third quarter to-date.

What it means

Graham isn’t the only Republican being inundated by Democratic cash. The New York Times reported earlier this week that, just to the north, North Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Cal Cunningham had raised $6 million in the days after Ginsburg’s death — more than doubling what his opponent, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, raised in the entire second quarter. And then there’s Sara Gideon, the Democratic state House speaker in Maine, who has been outraising endangered GOP Sen. Susan Collins for a year and is likely to see yet more money come in, even after Collins said she opposes Trump sending a nominee to the Senate before Election Day.

But Graham’s case is special. At the start of the election cycle, few handicappers gave Harrison a chance to knock off Graham, who has moved from premier Trump opponent and critic during the 2016 campaign to the president’s loyal ally and frequent golf partner.

Since he entered the race, Harrison has sought to exploit Graham’s shifting alliances, portraying him as inauthentic and power-hungry. And Graham’s flip-flop on the court appointment — in Oct. 2018, Graham said, “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait ‘till the next election” before filling the vacancy — has opened him up to new accusations of hypocrisy.

But attacking Graham on the court at the same time he’s presiding over hearings carries some risk, too. It could remind Republican voters who might be skeptical of Graham that he’s the point person in the Senate for moving the nomination. While South Carolina is undergoing the same kinds of demographic changes that have brought neighboring North Carolina and Georgia onto the presidential battlefield, it still leans Republican.

Graham’s vulnerability is rooted in his weakness among more conservative voters, who recall his pre-Trump image as a moderate voice: the deal-making friend of mavericky John McCain who pushed immigration reform, voted to confirm Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and trashed Trump. With upscale white voters in and around Charleston and Columbia drifting toward Democrats, Graham now needs the skeptical conservative base to propel him to victory.

Graham has attacked Harrison as too liberal for South Carolina, linking him to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and hitting him for his previous work as a lobbyist. And his campaign notes that Harrison hasn't been shy about promoting his website and urging supporters to give him donations, either.

In a six-sentence statement provided for this article, Graham campaign communications director T.W. Arrighi mentioned the URL for Graham's campaign website five times.

“The mainstream media is one giant in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party," Arrighi said in the two sentences that didn't include the address for Graham's website. "Jaime Harrison’s hollow campaign relies 100 percent on outside donations and ads because he is hiding from the issues."

What’s next

The end of the third quarter next week means we’ll likely hear from both men soon about their fundraising from July through September. Reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by Oct. 15.

In the meanwhile, Harrison’s boffo fundraising is giving him a massive advantage on the airwaves. According to Advertising Analytics, he spent $4.2 million on television this week alone — blowing Graham’s $1 million out of the water.

All told, Harrison has already spent $22.8 million and has another $15.5 million on the books, compared to $7.8 million spent and $1.9 million in future reservations for the incumbent.

“I am being killed financially,” Graham said on Fox News Channel in his first appearance of the day on Thursday. “This money is because they hate my guts.”

Harrison had a cheeky response on Twitter Thursday night: “Anybody else get the sense that @LindseyGrahamSC just realized he's going to lose on November 3rd?”



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