South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison announced on Wednesday he will seek to unseat GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is up for reelection next year.
The bid is an uphill climb for Harrison against Graham, who has become one of President Donald Trump’s most prominent supporters in Washington after being a fierce critic on the 2016 campaign trail, both before and after his own presidential run. Harrison – a top Democratic Party official, previous state party chairman and former lobbyist – is making his first run for public office, according to his campaign.
According to state records, Trump carried South Carolina in 2016 with 55% of the vote, compared with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 41%, and Graham last won reelection in 2014 by just over 54% to his Democratic opponent’s share of nearly 39%.
Harrison announced his bid in a video message posted on Wednesday, where he talked about his own background in the state and nodded to health care, student loans and Graham’s long record in politics – particularly the senator’s change of opinion on Trump.
“Here’s a guy who will say anything to stay in office,” Harrison said of Graham. “Lindsey Graham can’t lead us in any direction because he traded his moral compass for petty political gain.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded to Harrison’s bid on Wednesday afternoon, calling the Democrat a “looney liberal” as the GOP campaign arm defended Graham.
“Lindsey Graham is one of the most popular US senators in the country because South Carolina voters know that (he) has delivered results and has been a tireless fighter for Palmetto State values,” Nathan Brand, a committee spokesperson, said in an email.
A graduate of Yale and Georgetown Law before working as a staffer for Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, Harrison – by then the state party chairman – sought a national platform in the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory and threw his hat into the ring to lead the Democratic National Committee.
Tom Perez, who had been a Cabinet official in the Obama administration, ultimately won the race, and Harrison was named associate chair of the DNC. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets database, Harrison was a lobbyist with the Podesta Group, a major lobbying firm that announced in late 2017 that it would shut down amid the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Graham projected the highest national aspirations in 2016 when he mounted his presidential campaign and regularly attacked Trump. After Graham folded his campaign, he famously compared the GOP choice between Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Trump as “like being shot or poisoned” – and later backed Cruz over Trump.
But the heated back-and-forth between the two has long since dissipated, even after Graham said he would not vote for either Trump or Clinton. Since Trump took office, Graham has been a regular supporter of his and was perhaps the most outspoken advocate on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the nomination of Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Brett Kavanaugh.
This story has been updated.