As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) fights for his political life, his supporters’ closing argument has emerged: a vote for Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison, they contend, is a vote for looting, rioting, and chaos.
That’s the message delivered by Hobart Lewis, the sheriff of Greenville County, South Carolina, in an ad paid for by a pro-Graham super PAC, that hit airwaves in the state this week.
As footage rolls of looters smashing windows and setting fires, Lewis intones, “the rioting, the looting, the chaos... If Jaime Harrison is elected to the Senate, get ready, because it's comin’.”
Standing in uniform in front of a squad car, Lewis, who is white, alleges that Harrison “stands with the radicals who want to defund the police,” as the camera pans to the window of a squad car, which shows the faces of Harrison, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The sheriff then goes on to say Harrison has “dangerous ideas and zero experience” before touting Graham’s law enforcement credentials.
South Carolina is hardly the only state where Senate GOP forces are advancing a “law and order” message in the closing chapters of the 2020 campaign, drawing on imagery from recent violent protests around the country to make the case that Democrats are complicit in such conduct and that things would get worse should they gain power in Washington. In September, the Senate GOP’s official campaign arm released an ad, targeted to a national audience, that showed similarly apocalyptic scenes of urban violence and urging voters to “say no to the mob.”
But the ad takes on an added significance in South Carolina: Harrison is Black, and he has made clear that his path to victory rests on galvanizing Black voters, who constitute 26 percent of the state’s electorate.
The ad’s messenger also brings some baggage to his role as Team Graham’s last-minute heavy for a law-and-order pitch. In June, Lewis said that George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, two Black men killed this year at the hands of police, would be alive if they’d “complied” with police.
“If both men had complied… no matter what the circumstance… had they’d both complied and been handcuffed and not been confrontational and not gotten physical or any of that stuff, both would be alive today,” Lewis said, before adding that law enforcement could do better. The comment sparked calls for Lewis’ resignation from Black activists in Greenville County, the state’s most populous.
Harrison himself has taken deep offense at the ad, calling it “idiotic,” while insisting he has never supported defunding the police and has featured cops in his own closing ads. “I am not for defunding the police because that’s like defunding my family, who we put out on the frontlines to protect and serve their communities,” Harrison told the Post and Courier of Charleston, which first reported on the ad.
Guy King, a spokesperson for Harrison, told The Daily Beast that “Graham should call for this ad to be taken down” and that “the desperation is obvious.”
Graham has said publicly he did not know about the ad, since it was not run by his campaign but by Security is Strength, an outside super PAC formed to advance his political interests. But he welcomed Lewis to a campaign rally on Tuesday and said “this guy rocks,” the Post and Courier reported.
Graham himself has faced criticism recently for remarks on race: during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairmans, he facetiously referred to the “good old days of segregation.” Later, he insisted the comments were made sarcastically to prove a point that “there’s nobody in America in the legislative arena wanting to take us back to that dark period in American history,” he said. But critics wondered why Graham would make light of the Jim Crow era even in that context, and Harrison focused on the remarks in social media posts and fundraising pitches.