SC Dem forms exploratory committee to challenge Graham in 2020

Democrat Jaime Harrison will form an exploratory committee for Senate as he inches closer to challenging Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Democratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-S.C.) in 2020.

Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has been hinting at a 2020 Senate run in the deep-red state.

ADVERTISEMENT

In late January, he told “The Bill Press Show” that he was seriously considering a campaign and would make a decision in a few weeks.

He’ll make the official announcement of his exploratory committee on Friday, as he assesses his chances against Graham, who is well-funded and now chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harrison said he’ll be holding a series of listening sessions with voters both in urban centers and more rural pockets in the state. And he’s already discussed his potential run with Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoSenate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations DSCC endorses combat veteran MJ Hegar in Texas race to unseat Cornyn Senate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating MORE (D-Nev.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“One of the things that really propelled me to run are a lot of the big issues in South Carolina that need some attention and leadership,” Harrison told The Hill, specifically referring to the water crisis in Denmark, South Carolina.

“Instead of having a senator who’s pushing back on these types of things, he’s waiting to find his next lunch or dinner date with the president. That’s not helping the people of South Carolina. I want to represent people of South Carolina.”

McClatchy first reported the news of Harrison’s exploratory committee.

Harrison currently serves as associate chairman and counselor for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He started to build a national profile when he unsuccessfully ran for DNC chair in 2017.

Harrison told the The Hill that he’ll continue to serve in his DNC role if he runs for Senate.

When asked if he supports Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders over handling of feud with Warren On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans MORE’s (I-Vt.) “Medicare for All” legislation, Harrison was noncommittal and said he wanted “to get more details on it.”

But he said that he wants to “make sure everybody is covered.”

And on the newly introduced legislation related to the Green New Deal, Harrison said he’s still looking into the details but from “what I’ve read so far, I’m a big supporter of it.”

Harrison said there’s an urgency to address climate change and the country needs to “take dramatic action.”

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezAyanna Pressley's 'squad' of congresswomen offers support after she opens up about alopecia Here are the 10 senators who voted against Trump's North American trade deal Artist paints Michelle Obama, other women as battered in campaign against domestic violence MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (D-Mass.) on Thursday unveiled new climate change resolutions that would seek “to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” and create jobs.

Democrats will have an uphill fight in South Carolina, even though the party saw a glimmer of hope in 2018 when Democrat Joe Cunningham pulled off a stunning upset against Republican Katie Arrington in the state’s 1st District.

South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1998. And President Trump carried South Carolina by 14 points in 2016.

But Harrison, who is African American, argued that the state’s 1st District is a “microcosm” of South Carolina. And about a third of the state’s population is black, which will be an important constituency in upcoming elections.

Graham has become a close ally of the president, who remains popular in the state despite sagging approval numbers nationwide. Graham was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and prior to his tenure, served as a congressman from 1995 to 2003.

Graham entered 2019 with $3.2 million in his Senate campaign account.

Still, Harrison believes that unequivocal support for Trump from Republicans like Arrington could end up hurting them in a general election.

And Harrison argued that Graham has transformed from more of moderate to a Trump acolyte.

“People are tired of the new Lindsey Graham,” Harrison told McClatchy. “Here’s a guy who for the past two years has talked out of both sides of his mouth, from a few years ago basically calling the president a bigoted racist to now loving the president."

When asked about Democrats' chances to defeat him, Graham said in an interview that he believes he's a "good choice" regardless of his Democratic opponent.

“The question for voters ... is, am I the best choice of the choices available,” Graham told McClatchy. “I think I’d make a good case, no matter who runs, that I’m the good choice. Time will tell.”

-- Updated at 6:20 p.m.