COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Sen. Lindsey Graham is campaigning hard for a Senate seat political analysts once said was solidly his to retain.
Swapping between his role as senator and the Republican candidate, Graham attended events in Columbia, Greenville and Florence in a 24-hour span. The campaign stresses safety still comes first and they follow proper social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they are holding back.
“I take my race seriously and, if you believe President Trump is the right person to lead the nation, then don’t you want to have a Senator who will help him?” Graham said.
Graham’s challenger, former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison, is frequently breaking fundraising records for a South Carolina Senate race and has nearly tied Graham in recent polls.
However, Graham is still polling behind Pres. Trump’s support against Former Vice President Joe Biden in the Palmetto State.
In a one-on-one interview with WIS, Graham stressed his record of voting for helping seat conservative justices, his help in expanding the Port of Charleston to attract more business to the state, and his desire to keep state military bases up-to-date and relevant will convince any wavering Trump supporters he is their guy.
Yet, the senator didn’t agree with some of the president’s recent rhetoric defending supporters who are taking justice in their own hands when people protest in their cities.
“It’s not your job to take an AR-15 out into the streets and try to police the community yourself, so let’s go back to the rule of law,” Graham said.
On the same day as the president took a trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake was shot at the hands of the police and a 17-year-old is accused of shooting two people in the streets during protests, Graham said he was on the side of the law.
Regarding Blake, Graham said, “when you are told by the police...given a lawful directive. You should obey it.”
When asked about the 17-year-old Graham said, “I condemn what he did and he will get a fair trial.”
However, Graham was supportive of Trump’s controversial trip to the city and believes cities should welcome a visit and support from the Commander-in-Chief.
“I think these Democratic mayors would rather see their cities burned than get help from Trump,” he said.
As for the name of the group leading many of these protests, Graham said he supports it.
“I spoke to a Black pastor and he said, ‘Yes, all lives matter to me, but Senator, would you say Black Lives Matter?’ and I said, ‘Why do you need me to say it?’ and he said, ‘If you say it, it means to me you get it.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, Black Lives Matter,’’” Graham recalled.
On the topic of police reform, Graham deferred to his friend and colleague Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate.
“When it comes to the cops, there are thousands of interactions a day between the police and the community that are overwhelmingly positive. So when it comes to the policing, I want accountability....but we need to support them,” Graham said.
Graham was adamant that it’s not a binary choice between supporting police and people of color but also said he is a strong supporter of law enforcement.
“Nobody is stopping NBA games when two cops get shot in the head in Chicago,” he said.
On the topic of elections, Graham wants to make sure people can vote in the “most convenient way for them” and said he would support adding an extra exemption to absentee voting that would allow for anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so because of COVID-19.
This exemption was passed by state lawmakers for the primary in June, and lawmakers are slated to it up again when they return to the State House.
“I want people to have the best opportunity to vote, make it easy, not make it hard,” he said.
Graham drew a distinction between absentee voting, as is allowed in South Carolina, and voting-by-mail, which he defined as sending every voter a ballot despite both methods using the mailing system.
When asked about the federal and state response to the coronavirus, Graham gave Gov. McMaster “good marks” and the president “great marks.”
Graham applauded McMaster for shutting down the South Carolina economy for six weeks, which he said helped prevent a “run” on hospitals or a shortage of PPE. But Graham said the economy shouldn’t be shut down again.
The senior senator also lauded the president for his efforts with “Operation Warp Speed,” the president’s initiative to speed up vaccine development.
Graham has represented the people of South Carolina in some capacity since 1992. From the South Carolina House of Representatives to the U.S. Congress to the Senate, Graham has been campaigning on and off for almost 30 years.
When asked what he thinks people still don’t know about him, the senator replied, “How much I love this job. I don’t have a chance to meet everybody and say thank you...the highlight of my life.”