CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Three days away from the toughest election of his life, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a succinct pitch to South Carolina voters for six more years in Washington: more judges, more Trump, and more owning the libs.
At a parking lot outside Charleston on Saturday evening, a punchy Graham popped off his campaign bus after a long day of campaigning and tossed plenty of red meat—and more than a few one-liners—to an adoring crowd of roughly 100 GOP faithful decked out in Trump hats and Graham stickers.
Graham spent as much time attacking his opponent Jaime Harrison’s policies as he did Harrison’s fundraising—a record-shattering $108 million haul as of mid-October—and his base of support from liberals nationwide motivated to take Graham down after his dramatic outburst during the 2018 confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh.
“You know why I’m going to win in South Carolina?” Graham asked. “Because they hate my guts.” The left, continued Graham, sees in Harrison an ally. “They see in me their worst nightmare,” he quipped.
But Graham not only teed off on Harrison but unspooled a broader, bitter warning about the stakes of the 2020 election—not just his, but Trump’s, too.
“We're beginning to pull away, because people are getting scared,” said Graham. “People are worried that they'll wake up one day and their country will be different to the point they don't recognize it,” he continued, mentioning Democratic proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, and reform health care and immigration.
Indeed, there were more than a few moments during the Saturday rally where Graham’s race and Trump’s race seemed impossible to separate. The senator’s most-touted achievement, the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, are among Trump’s most-touted, too.
Several Graham supporters at the rally, asked by The Daily Beast about the election, spoke first about Trump’s race before getting into Graham’s. When the senator’s campaign bus rumbled into the parking lot, the crowd began chanting “four more years!” before someone helpfully began a “six more years!” chant. Perhaps some supporters were not clear on the correct length of a Senate term; others may have just been more fired up about Trump.
For that crowd, there was plenty to cheer about in Graham’s speech, laden with praise for Trump’s record on national security, immigration, and the economy—before COVID-19 hit, of course. “We’re going to beat this virus, folks—let's be smart, use common sense, but we're not going to lock the country down again,” said Graham, to cheers of “hell no!” from the crowd.
Graham’s frequent references to Trump’s achievements and the imperative to re-elect him, may have suited a stump speech in a battleground state like neighboring North Carolina and Georgia.
Not so much in South Carolina, where a Trump victory is assured. But in a tight, toss-up race against Harrison, Graham’s fortunes rest on the length of Trump’s coattails in the state—and the more voters who are fired up to support Trump in South Carolina, the better for Graham.
“The more people that go to the polls,” said Graham in a media availability after the rally, “the better off I'll be.”
South Carolina’s hardline conservative base has not always loved Graham, who in his two-decade career on Capitol Hill cut a profile as a center-right dealmaker, not a fire-breathing right-winger. Graham’s warmup speaker, state Rep. Lin Bennett, alluded to that history: “Some of y’all have been disappointed with him,” she said. “He has done a great job.”
But her remarks reflected how the GOP base in South Carolina has rallied as much around Graham as it has a common enemy—liberals, represented by Harrison. Bennett accused Harrison of raising “illegal money” through the fundraising platform ActBlue, noting that many of his contributions came from unemployed people. It is not illegal for unemployed people to give money to political candidates, but Republicans, including Trump, have seized on the pattern to raise theories that a scheme is at work to use the unemployed as vessels for big donors to skirt contribution limits.
Many die-hard Republicans believe Graham—and Trump—will prevail, no matter what.
“They're dumping millions and millions because they see a seat, and they're pissed off about Kavanaugh, and they’re pissed off about Amy,” said Susan Day, a real estate professional from Charleston, who wore a pink Trump hat and brought a Trump flag to the rally. “So you know, I hope they spend $130 million. Great for our economy and, you know, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Jaime.”