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.”
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.
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: