SC-Sen: More Of Lindsey Graham's (R) Donors Are Abandoning Him For Jaime Harrison (D)

Ouch:

Wallace Lightsey, a Greenville attorney, is a self-described “moderate Republican” who has given money over the years to members of both parties. That includes $9,500 to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican incumbent up for reelection this November.

But this year, Lightsey is doing something different: he’s donating to Jaime Harrison, Graham’s Democratic opponent.

“I was a big supporter of Lindsey, especially back in the ‘90s,” Lightsey told The State. “I helped raise money for him and I really liked him. I thought he was very bright, very articulate and seemed to be pretty practical.”

Then came President Donald Trump.

“As far as Lindsey’s concerned, with me, it’s all about Trump and Lindsey’s over-the-top support of Trump. I probably wouldn’t have done anything different if he’d just stayed quiet, but his very vocal support of Trump … that really turned me off.”

Lightsey, who said he’s given $750 to Harrison so far, now joins the ranks of Richard Wilkerson, the former president of Michelin North America who last month became the first longtime Graham donor to publicly switch sides to support Harrison.

But according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by The State and McClatchy, Lightsey is also among at least 24 South Carolina donors who have, over the last several months, been quietly writing checks of at least $200 to Harrison after giving money to Graham in previous election cycles.

Cumulatively, as of March 31, these S.C. donors have given $27,000 to Harrison, who now has over $8 million cash on hand, mostly from out-of-state.

Two dozen defectors won’t cost Graham the election. All together, they have given Graham $68,000 since his first Senate bid in 2004, which hardly registers as a speck compared to his current $12.8 million war chest.

“Where Lindsey Graham has lost in that group he has gained much more in the conservative base,” said Katon Dawson, a former state GOP party chairman. “When he subtracts, he’ll pick up someplace else, and that’s what he’s done.”

The new data, however, do offer some evidence that Harrison’s campaign message is resonating with an audience he needs to win over to have any chance of beating Graham: moderates who once supported the senator.

According to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, what Harrison has accomplished here is noteworthy.

“Given increasing polarization, it’s definitely unusual to see people switching parties, particularly big donors,” said Krumholz, whose nonpartisan group tracks political spending.

And, she added, Harrison has poached more Graham donors than any other senate challenger in the field right now, citing her organization’s analysis of contributions to U.S. Senate candidates across the country.

“There are not a lot of good examples of this phenomenon,” she said, “which is why it’s so striking.”

Last month, Graham’s top donor left him for Harrison:

A former top South Carolina business executive and supporter of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has decided to back the Republican incumbent’s Democratic challenger in his 2020 re-election race.

Richard Wilkerson, the former chairman and president of Michelin’s Greenville-based North America operations, said he chose to endorse Democrat Jaime Harrison because of his experience working with him while Harrison lobbied on the company’s behalf in Washington, D.C.

From 2009 to 2016, when Harrison was a lobbyist at the now-defunct Podesta Group, he advocated for some of Michelin’s legislative priorities, including dredging the Port of Charleston and creating new tire manufacturing standards to improve fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Wilkerson said the experience showed him “how hard he (Harrison) works to bring lasting economic opportunity to the people of South Carolina” and described him as “the change South Carolina needs.”

Michelin is one of South Carolina’s largest companies, employing almost 10,000 people in the state.

And national Democrats are even eager to get rid of Graham:

A group of Democratic operatives are launching a super PAC to defeat Sen. Lindsey Graham as liberals try to expand the Senate map to include South Carolina, officials involved with the effort told POLITICO.

The organization, called “Lindsey Must Go,” say they have over $1 million in commitments and plan to raise at least $4 million through both large- and small-dollar donations. Lindsey Must Go indicated it will be more focused on attacking Graham than boosting his Democratic opponent, former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison.

“This is not about Jaime Harrison. This is about Lindsey Graham,” said the PAC's spokesperson, Jimmy Williams.
The super PAC comes after Harrison outraised Graham over the first three months of the year — bringing in a state record, $7.4 million to Graham’s $5.7 million — which made some national Democrats believe Harrison has a small chance. Graham has been preparing for a competitive re-election, though, and still has a more than $4 million cash advantage. A super PAC supporting Graham has already booked $1.6 million on the airwaves for the fall election.

Also, Harrison was interviewed by Jonathan Capehart for the Washington Post Podcast, Cape Up. It’s certainly worth a listen:

When I was in South Carolina in February for the Democratic primary, I sat down with Jaime Harrison. He’s the former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, the first African American to hold the post. And now he’s vying to become the Palmetto State’s second black sitting U.S. senator by running against incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the state’s other senator, is the first African American elected to the Senate from a Southern state since Reconstruction and only the 10th to ever serve in that chamber.
Harrison has an incredible biography, one that took him from being so poor he ate cereal with water to being a graduate of Yale University and Georgetown law school. His race to defeat Graham has gone from improbable to possible. Since my interview with Harrison for the latest episode of “Cape Up,” Harrison’s first-quarter fundraising haul of $7.3 million broke state records. And an internal Harrison campaign poll shows that a “58 percent majority think it’s time for someone new” in the Senate.

Harrison related a story from a Charleston, S.C., focus group that might explain why Graham finds himself in a competitive race. “One woman said to the moderator, she said, ‘I’m bothered by the fact that Lindsey Graham did not stand up for his friend John McCain,” recounted Harrison. “And she said, ‘If he won’t stand up for his best friend, then what will he do for me?”

Click here to listen to the podcast episode.

Let’s keep up the momentum and get rid of Graham once and for all. Click here to donate and get involved with Harrison’s campaign.