Could Lindsey Graham Really Lose?

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S1: You could make the argument that as the Senate gets to work confirming whoever the president picks to join the Supreme Court, one of the politicians with the most at stake here is Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, responsible for organizing hearings for the nominee. And over the last week, he’s become known for a remarkable change of heart about the process that’s about to unfold.

S2: I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, let’s let the next president, who, whoever it might be, make that nomination. And you could use my words against me. And you’d be absolutely right.

S1: This was Graham back in 2016 arguing the president should not be able to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg seat. This is something he didn’t just say once. He said it multiple times to multiple people.

S3: If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process is started. We’ll wait till the next election. And I’ve got a pretty good chance of being the junior on the record. Yeah. All right. Hold it.

S4: Did you see those videos down in South Carolina? We sure did.

S1: I wanted to know how this change of heart was playing with Graham’s constituents. So I called up the AP’s Meg Cannard.

S5: Those of us who’ve covered Lindsey Graham a long time are used to hearing him speak his mind. But to take a stance that definitive in something that surely has become now a very contentious debate over the next Supreme Court nominee, you just never know. And he told us to to hold the tape. So everybody did. And now we’re watching it over and over.

S1: These gotcha moments, they’ve already become national political ads because Lindsey Graham, he’s up for re-election and the race is surprisingly tight, Meg says the Supreme Court nomination, it’s bound to affect his race.

S5: But for now, it’s hard to tell how if voters like what they see every time they’re seeing that very highly visible process play out, that could be a good thing for Senator Graham. But on the flip side of that, if voters are turned off by what is sure to be a very contentious debate, if they for some reason don’t like how it’s going, if they didn’t agree that this process should even be happening now before the election, that certainly could change things for him.

S1: Hmm. If I ask you a week ago about Lindsey Graham’s chances for re-election, I wonder what your answer would have been then and whether the last week or so would have changed your answer at all.

S5: We’ve seen this race tightening, I would still say that this is Lindsey Graham’s race to lose. It does depend, I think, somewhat how voters who might have considered themselves somewhat undecided see this Judiciary Committee process playing out and whether they feel like the end result is something that they could support both for the White House and in their Senate seat.

S6: And Lindsey Graham today on the show, the story of how one of the president’s closest allies seems to be fighting just to keep his job even in a deep red state like South Carolina. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: In the past Supreme Court hearings, they’ve been good for Lindsey Graham. Back when Brett Kavanaugh went through this process, it became this platform for Graham to show off his conservative bona fides and shame the Democrats.

S7: What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that, not me.

S1: Meg says this performance played well back home, too. It was especially important because for years Graham had been known as the kind of politician who is happy to reach across the aisle and compromise.

S5: For a lot of people who maybe were just becoming aware of him during that debate, that was a very impassioned moment for Senator Graham, and it kind of propelled him into the spotlight and won him a lot of conservative plaudits from a lot of critics, perhaps, who had seen him as too conciliatory. But Kavanaugh was different because we did see Senator Graham really just take the mic and let Democrats have it for what he saw as a process that was unfair and was very divisive and was potentially harmful to this. Now justice. Then, Judge, that moment also did a lot in terms of advancing Senator Graham’s relationship with President Trump and with a president who’s certainly popular here and in many other places that got Lindsey Graham, some of those truly red conservative, you know, bonus points and really got him some of those creds back that some folks had seen him as is lacking.

S1: And during his moments of bipartisanship, I wondering how you saw that with voters in your state like you’ve covered Graham for more than a decade now. So did you really see a sort of change in fortune on the ground with voters after the Kavanaugh hearings, among some certainly among some of those voters who were and have continued to be strong supporters of President Trump?

S5: They liked what they saw. They liked seeing their elected senator up there aligned with the president that they already liked. And as far as they saw it really standing up for a conservative who was being done wrong by the Democrats, from other voters, either Democrats, self-described independents or unknown unaffiliated, they saw it as more of the flip flopping Lindsey Graham that they had already seen as too willing to go with the tide, as too willing to see an opportunity and jump on it because he saw it as the winning one.

S1: So I’m wondering when you think we’ll know how the current process to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg seat is going to impact Lindsey Graham at this critical moment?

S4: I think we’re going to just have to see how the beginning pieces of the hearing process come together. And that sounds very squishy. And that, you know, I know is nothing definitive. But I don’t know that we can say, OK, well, you know, a week into this, it’ll be clear how the voters feel, know it’s going to there’s going to be much more of a trickle down effect, I think, for Lindsey Graham in particular, for his own electoral chances.

S5: You know, this is the first time that he’s overseen this kind of process as chairman. It may be the only time that he does that since he’s set to give the chairmanship back to Senator Grassley of Iowa next next Congress. So this may be really the only time that Lindsey Graham is shepherding this kind of process. And it just so happens that it’s in a very tough race for his own re-election. And it may not be the way that he wanted things to happen. But it’s it is it is what it is nonetheless. Or maybe it is exactly what he wanted. Maybe I don’t think he orchestrated anything that way, but he could definitely be seeing it as a big advantage because he is going to have very high level of visibility. Clearly, only the South Carolina viewers at these hearings were the ones who can vote for him. But he also is not it’s not going to hurt to have that kind of visibility and a prominent role as long as voters like what they see.

S1: So enter Jamie Harrison, he’s the Democrat who’s running against Lindsay Graham. When you heard Jamie Harrison was running for this seat, were you surprised?

S5: No, I was not surprised, Jamie has been a very visible figure here in South Carolina. He was the chairman of the Democratic Party here during the 2016 presidential cycle, which obviously saw a very active primary process on both sides of the aisle. He’s also an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee and he ran for chairman of the committee after he left his role here at the state party. So he’s a party guy. He is a longtime party guy. But yes, he’s very well known in South Carolina, Democratic circles as well as national circles. He was at many events with, you know, all of the candidates who are pursuing the party’s nomination. I even ran into him at some Republican debates because he and the chairman of the state party, Matt Moore, were very good friends and continue to be.

S4: And so they we called it the Matt and Jamie show. They would just kind of pal around the state together and actually wrote a piece about it because of how fun it was to see both sides, you know, really just getting along and enjoying it all together. But no, I don’t think that his candidacy surprised people who have been closely following South Carolina politics because of his his level of visibility and also his ability to bring in some of that national level support that in a state that really isn’t going to be able to fundraise tens of millions of dollars for a Democrat, that he could use his relationships to bring that money in, to give his campaign the kind of visibility that he saw as necessary to go up against someone like Lindsey Graham.

S1: Can we talk a little bit about why he even thought this race was worthwhile? Because South Carolina is a reliably Republican state.

S5: It is that when I asked Jamie when he was beginning this whole process of running against Senator Graham, why are you doing this? What’s the deal? His answer was, of course, we see Senator Graham as somebody who needs to be replaced and there should be a Democrat representing South Carolina. And we don’t like some of his policies. But also in terms of further justification at the very beginning, you know, Jamie said, look, I have because of my long time relationships in Democratic circles, I’ve got what it would take because he knew it was an uphill battle, but he certainly saw it as one that he could win.

S1: Hmm. I’ve read that some strategists have kind of written him off, basically, because they don’t see how he can win. Like Josh Dossi in The Washington Post said, Harrison would need to win 35 to 40 percent of the white vote in particular. And he’s going to be running with Trump at the top of the ticket. So the question becomes, are there going to be Trump Harrison voters?

S5: That is a great question, because in the end, it does come down to math. When you think about voters who are very likely going to be going to the polls on November 3rd and supporting President Trump, I’ve asked strategists the same question to how do you then convince those people who are identifying with the top of the ticket to then take the next race under it, the highest level federal race we have in this state this year, and then say, no, I don’t want the candidate with the same letter after their name as as the top of the ticket. And I think there are some people who say that they anticipate there will be people who vote for President Trump here because they do support him for a second term, but then they may just walk away from the rest of their ballot. They may not make a choice at all for Lindsey Graham or for Jamie Harrison. So essentially voting against both and for both at the same time, not really accomplishing anything in that race. Who knows how much that will actually happen? There are plenty of voters here, quite a number who tend to vote straight ticket. So they’re just going to press the button for whichever party and have that be that for all the candidates on that slate. So there is a mountain to climb in terms of a Democratic candidate who is on the ballot with President Trump in a state that has a lot of support for President Trump. Jamie certainly thinks that he can do it. He points to a lot of reasons why supporters of President Trump might not like to have Lindsey Graham around again. But the voters that I’ve talked to, you know, recently, and I’ll continue to do so over the next month plus that we have to go if they support President Trump, they also indicate support for Lindsey Graham. That’s not a scientific sample, but that is anecdotal evidence of the fact that there are plenty of supporters here for the president. And if there’s another Republican candidate on the ballot, then they seem to indicate that they’ll be backing that one, too.

S1: So given all that, what do I make of the polls that have been showing a tight.

S5: Race between Lindsey Graham and Jamie Harrison, I mean, really tight, yeah, and they keep getting tighter as well as all the prognostications shifting that race from, you know, very Republican to sort of Republican to leans Republican to who knows, polls are good for candidates like Jamie Harrison because they help him in raising money, which is something he’s continued to do. One of the surveys that came out recently from Quinnipiac showing the race completely tied up in the two days after that survey came out, Jamie’s campaign raised two million dollars. And that is an amount that if you look back at quarterly fundraising for that race, I wrote a standalone story on Cortile fundraising, which I don’t often do, but I wrote one when Jamie brought in one point five million dollars for a quarter. I mean, that merited its own coverage back then. And now we’re talking about more than that in just 48 hours.

S1: There is a lot of money in this race, about 30 million dollars on both sides. But the thing is, airtime in South Carolina just isn’t that expensive. And it seems like the biggest thing the campaign spending is accomplishing is raising more money for the campaign to spend.

S4: What you have seen from both of these campaigns is a high level of visibility in terms of national advertising. A lot of cable buys for both candidates, as well as the third party groups who are involved in the race. Clearly, as we’ve noted, not everybody who watches those channels can vote in this race.

S1: Yeah. What does that do for you if you’re running in South Carolina?

S5: Well, it helps you raise more money, which we’re already talking about. How do they spend it? But, you know, it does it for the people who really across the country, for the voters who are just kind of like in it right there, they’re paying the kind of attention to the overall debate for control of the Senate, like as closely as reporters are in some aspects. So for those people, it probably makes them feel really jazzed up about races in different places. But it also, in addition to that, buys a lot of digital space. The digital ads for this cycle and for several preceding it have become more and more important because they’re they can be everywhere and they can take on a lot of different formats. And those can actually be micro targeted to voters in certain areas. So you’re focusing, you know, just on, OK, well, we need to make sure we shore up our support in the conservative upstate part of South Carolina. So let’s make our target a lot of our digital there. That’s what the campaigns are doing that does cost money. And with all this money, they can certainly do a lot of it.

S1: Have you seen how that works? Like heard from voters like a can’t open Facebook without Jamie Harrison, you know, knocking on my screen or Lindsay?

S4: Yeah, I have heard that from voters. I’ve also heard it from my nine year old who watches a lot of YouTube and feels very well versed, I think, in this campaign, because she sees so much of both candidates. But, yes, that does translate, I think that they’re like normal like any of us. I think there are plenty of voters who probably have kind of reached a saturation level with that, too. So it begs the question, even with so much money, which is clearly what’s necessary to run either of these campaigns, at what point is it really enough? At what point do you perhaps start thinking, is there another federal race that I could run for later on and just kind of slide this cash on into that account? I mean, for whichever candidate isn’t the winner here, that will certainly leave them with a sizable war chest if they do decide to pursue another office sometime.

S1: Yeah, it’s funny to hear you say that, because I was wondering in some ways, looking at this race, no Democratic strategist is going to say our goal is not to win the seat. The goal is always to win the seat. But in some ways, this race makes me wonder whether there’s another goal, which is just to make Lindsey Graham sweat, spend a ton of money and make it rain for the Democrats more generally. And whether if you do that, that’s an end goal in and of itself.

S5: I think that certainly the national level, Democrats have put money and attention on this race to perhaps put down a marker in terms of the overall let’s try to get more footholds throughout the Deep South in terms of that overall strategy, even if it doesn’t necessarily happen this time, that it’ll perhaps set the groundwork for it to happen the next time. There’s a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago which kind of hits on some of the overall. Voting picture here in South Carolina and the overall feeling in that piece was they feel energy for the first time in a long time. Some of that, I think, particularly in South Carolina, comes off of the almost two year Democratic presidential primary process that we had here. That was something that garnered a lot of attention for the state. It also just jazzed up Democrats.

S1: And, of course, South Carolina was one of the earlier voting states. So it was really important.

S5: Absolutely. Yeah. First in the south primary. And so in a place where black voters comprise the majority of the Democratic voting electorate here, there was a lot of energy among black Democrats particularly, but also just the party. They got a lot of attention. They had a lot of events. They had a lot of fun. And I think coming off that process, Democrats, Jamie Harrison included, feel like they’ve got some momentum heading into the general election for the presidential race, but also for the down ballots like the Senate race. Who knows exactly if that is going to translate into some wins. But even if it doesn’t, candidates and strategists alike tell me that they see it as moving in a positive direction. And so even if it’s not 2020, where Democrats win something statewide, they feel that it’s going to be showing a good sign in terms of elections to come potentially for the next Senate seat that comes available or in a future presidential election.

S8: Meg Kenard, thank you so much for joining me. Absolutely, it was my pleasure. Meg Kinnard reports from South Carolina for the Associated Press. And that’s the show before we go, I’ve got a quick favor for you. We are asking folks to give us a call and tell us how you are planning to make your vote count or help the people around. You have their vote count. If you’ve got a story, we want to hear it. Give us a call. Two zero two eight eight eight to five eight eight. The show is produced by Mary Wilson, Danielle Hewitt, Jason de Leon and Elena Schwartz, Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt. Make sure we do this job right. What? Next Tuesday is our Friday show. Stay tuned, because tomorrow Celeste Headlee will be on the mic. And I’m Mary Harris. I’ll catch you back here on Monday.