Graham, Harrison set to meet in first South Carolina debate


Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison will face off in their first debate on 8 p.m. Saturday.

The debate, at Allen University, is hosted by WIS-TV and Allen in partnership with Gray media stations and The State Media Co.

It’s the first of three debates scheduled between the two candidates.

Come to The State’s website, at, Saturday before 8 p.m. to tune into the livestream of the debate.

The debate also will air on WIS-TV in Columbia, WMBF in Myrtle Beach, WCSC in Charleston, WYFF in Greenville, WTOC in Savannah and C-SPAN, according to debate organizers. It is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

Here’s a look at what to expect Saturday when the candidates take the stage:

Who’s most in touch with SC voters

Graham and Harrison have portrayed each other as wealthy people out of touch with regular South Carolinians.

In television ads, Graham has pointed to Harrison being a high-paid Washington lobbyist. Harrison has accused Graham of “lavish” campaign spending as the senator seeks his fourth six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

Both candidates also have destroyed fundraising records for statewide races in South Carolina, accusing each other of being in the pocket of powerful special interests.

To combat that imagery, both candidates could take air time to remind viewers of their meager upbringings.

Graham’s family lived in the back of a bar and pool hall when he was growing up. His parents died when he was in college and graduate school, and he became the guardian of his younger sister Darline when she was 13 years old. Graham served in the Air Force as lawyer, and served in the South Carolina Legislature before being elected to Congress.

Harrison grew up in Orangeburg, the son of a single mother. He was raised by his grandparents, went to Yale University and Georgetown Law School, launched a career in politics and eventually bought his grandparents a house. He worked for Congressman Jim Clyburn before joining the Podesta Group as a lobbyist. Harrison has worked for South Carolina Democratic Party as well as the national party.

Without the advantage of being a well-known politician — an advantage Graham has — Harrison, the newcomer to running for office, may spend a lot of time introducing himself, political observers say.

“Harrison is still, for a lot of people I’m sure, the unknown quantity,” said Jordan Ragusa, a political science professor at the College of Charleston. “On the one hand, he has less of a record that can be criticized. Often having having less of a record politically is a positive these days. But at the same time, it opens up the door for Graham.”

Graham’s campaign has tried to tie Harrison to socialist policies, to a campaign to defund the police and to Democratic leadership in Congress.

Harrison has accused Graham of flip-flopping on his positions when it’s politically expedient. For example, Harrison has repeatedly hit Graham, in campaign ads and on the trail, for going from being one of Trump’s most vocal critics in the lead up to the 2016 presidential primaries, to becoming one of his most loyal defenders now that Trump is president.

Graham and Harrison also will probably touch on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Each candidate has approached campaigning differently during the pandemic with Harrison holding mostly virtual campaign appearances while Graham has attended in-person events.

What’s at stake

Because the race is so close according to recent polling, and the airwaves have been flooded with advertising, a big mistake could be costly, political observers say.

“Who makes the mistake. That’s the question,” said Dave Woodard, a retired Clemson University political science professor and former Graham campaign manager.

In the contest between Graham and Harrison, Woodard said, the stakes are high as illustrated in the amount of money they’ve raised and their campaign strategies.

Graham has experience on the debate stage and in the limelight. So a potential challenge for Harrison is whether he is able throw Graham off of his game.

“Graham is a very clever guy and very experienced guy,” Woodard said. “One of the things that I’ve noticed that characterizes him is he keeps his composure pretty well.”

Catch up on the Graham-Harrison race

Harrison is set to outspend Graham 7-to-1 on SC airwaves in last month of election

How does SC Senator Lindsey Graham make his money. What his tax returns say

How much did SC Senate candidate Jaime Harrison earn? What his tax returns say

SC’s Graham takes aim at Harrison’s lobbying history in new Senate race campaign ad

Harrison slams ‘lavish’ Graham campaign spending on private golf clubs, planes in TV ad

SC’s Graham promises to hold hearing on Trump Supreme Court nominee and ‘do my job’

As SC’s Graham meets with Supreme Court nominee, opponent Harrison weighs in

Lindsey Graham wins support from Constitution Party challenger in SC Senate race

Graham says he did wear a mask at Trump speech, despite Harrison’s claim

Harrison holds event in soy bean field, but he’s not done with virtual campaigning

How candidate’s in SC’s top races for Congress are battling for votes in a pandemic

Joseph Bustos is a state government and politics reporter at The State. He a Northwestern University graduate and previously worked in Illinois covering government and politics. He has won reporting awards in both Illinois and Missouri. He moved to South Carolina in November 2019.
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