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Graham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal'

Senator Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBringing America back from the brink Progressive groups warn Congress against Section 230 changes Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.) said in a forum Friday night that people of color “can go anywhere in this state,” as long as they are “conservative, not liberal.” 

The incumbent senator's comment came during his segment of a televised, 30-minute public forum Friday night after the original event — a debate between Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison and Graham — was scrapped over disagreements about coronavirus tests. 

During the forum, one of the moderators asked Graham to discuss the civil unrest brought on by the police killing of George Floyd, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. He said that he did not believe police forces are inherently racist, adding that he did not believe the Palmetto State was inherently racist. 

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"Let me tell you why," began the senator. "The one thing I can say without any doubt, you can be an African American and go to the Senate, you just have to share the values of our state." 

The senator pointed to fellow Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senator calls Biden's COVID-19 relief plan a 'non-starter' GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP MORE (R-S.C.) — the only Black Republican senator — and the state's former Gov. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyRNC chair says GOP will be neutral in 2024 presidential primary Pompeo to join conservative think tank Hudson Institute Nikki Haley: If Biden rejoins Human Rights Council 'it will fly in the face of our fight for human rights' MORE (R), who is of Indian descent, as examples of people of color who have been successful because of their “values.”   

Graham, who is facing a tight reelection race against Harrison, a Black American, boasted about what he saw as a good record with African Americans in the state and touted his support for historically Black colleges and universities.

“I care about everybody, if you’re a young African American or an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this country,” Graham said. “You just need to be conservative, not liberal.” 

Graham's remarks sparked swift backlash from Democrats and critics on Twitter, including from Harrison himself. 

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"Lindsey Graham finally said the quiet part out loud: he only cares about South Carolinians who belong to his political party," Harrison wrote.

"This isn't about political parties. It's not about left vs. right. This is about right vs. wrong." 

Jimmy Williams, a former adviser to Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinTrump censure faces tough odds in Senate On The Money: GOP digs in on defending Trump tax cuts | Democrats bullish on raising minimum wage | Financial sector braces for Biden's consumer bureau pick Sen. Patrick Leahy returns home after being hospitalized MORE (D-Ill.) and a South Carolina political consultant, rebuked Graham’s remarks on Twitter as “racism on live tv in 2020."

“White people don’t get to tell black people how to think or vote anymore,” he tweeted. “Your 19th century plantation mentality isn’t welcome in South Carolina.” 

Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellLobbying from the center House formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot Swalwell compares Trump to bin Laden: They 'inspired and radicalized' MORE (D-Calif.), mocked the senator, asking if his remarks were a result of a fever or steroids. The congressman appears to be referring to a fever, a common symptom of COVID-19, and steroids, a family of drugs used to tamp down severe symptoms of the disease.  

Friday's debate  was scrapped after Harrison said he would not participate unless Graham was tested for COVID-19. Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had been in contact with lawmakers who had tested positive for the coronavirus last week. 

South Carolina’s senate race has become increasingly competitive, with a number of polls showing Graham and Harrison neck-and-neck. Graham enjoyed a double-digit lead earlier this year.

The Cook Political Report on Wednesday shifted the senate race from “lean Republican” in favor of Graham to a “toss-up,” giving Harrison a boost weeks before the election.