Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was a vocal critic of candidate Donald Trump in 2016, before becoming one of the United States president’s most loyal backers in Congress. In a surprisingly tight Senate race, Graham’s challenger, Jaime Harrison, is investing big money on Facebook to remind voters of the flip-flop.
The Harrison campaign has spent $2.04 million on Facebook ads since April 22, according to Facebook’s ads library, by far the most among any candidate running for U.S. Senate. Graham’s campaign is second, doling out $1.01 million on Facebook over the past three months.
Graham, 65, has held his seat since 2003 and is among his party’s leaders as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was one of the many Republican candidates who went up against Trump four years ago in the presidential primary, describing him along the way as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” and “unfit for office.”
“Lindsey will say anything, but he does nothing for South Carolina,” Harrison says at the end of a recent Facebook ad, which shows Graham turning from Trump foe to friend. James Hodges, a Democratic former governor of South Carolina, said he sees a Harrison ad every time he opens Facebook, many of them tying Graham to Trump.
“Graham has become a lightning rod for anti-Trump voters, and Harrison needs to remind those voters that he’s in a competitive race against him, and find a way to keep them engaged and supportive,” said Hodges, president of McGuireWoods Consulting in Columbia, South Carolina. “Facebook is the most efficient way.”
South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1998, and Trump carried the state in 2016 by 9 percentage points. According to The Cook Political Report, the seat is likely to stay with Graham, and the latest poll from Gravis Marketing shows the incumbent ahead by 7 points.
But with Trump’s approval numbers shrinking, due largely to his response to the coronavirus, Democrats see an opportunity to expand the competitive electoral map and pick up enough seats to take a majority in the Senate, where they currently trail 53 to 47, including two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
Harrison had raised $28.6 million for his campaign as of the end of June, third most among Democratic Senate candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Amy McGrath, who is taking on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, had raised $46.9 million, and former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is running against incumbent Martha McSally in Arizona, had pulled in $43.6 million.
After Harrison and Graham, the next biggest spender on Facebook ads is Kelly’s campaign, which has shelled out $971,000 on ads. McConnell is fourth at $911,000, followed by McGrath at $897,000. While many of Harrison’s Facebook ads have been targeted specifically at residents in South Carolina, others have run across the country as part of an effort to reel in as much cash as possible.
For example, in late May, Harrison ran a video asking people to contribute $5 to provide the “resources to beat Lindsey Graham,” and another posting a poll that claimed Harrison was leading by 4 points. Both ads were shown more in California and New York than in any other state, according to Facebook’s data.
Harrison has recently focused more at home. In a video ad that started running this week for people in South Carolina, Harrison claims that as joblessness rises, Graham won’t vote to extend Covid-related unemployment benefits.