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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 GrahamLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Wall Street backed Biden campaign with million in 2020 cycle: report 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 ScottFrom HBCUs to Capitol Hill: How Congress can play an important role Democrats unveil bill to reduce police violence against people with mental illness Liberals should embrace Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (R-S.C.) — the only Black Republican senator — and the state's former Gov. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyGraham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal' 'The soul' versus 'law and order' Author Ryan Girdusky: RNC worked best when highlighting 'regular people' as opposed to 'standard Republicans' 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 DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  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 SwalwellGraham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal' President Trump, Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19 House in near-unanimous vote affirms peaceful transfer of power 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.