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Harrison: Record $57M haul in US Senate race has been spent

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Jaime Harrison raised a record-shattering $57 million last quarter in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, but the South Carolina Democrat told The Associated Press on Thursday that the cash is already spent.

Harrison’s financial haul in the third quarter of this year was the most ever brought in by a Senate candidate in a quarterly fundraising period and came as other Democratic Senate challengers raked in eye-popping cash against Republican incumbents.

At the time, pundits questioned if Harrison, an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, would even be able to spend the mountain of money, noting South Carolina’s relatively small size and inexpensive media markets.

Harrison’s campaign said the money essentially had to be spent pretty much as quickly as it came in, in order to raise his profile to a level competitive with that of Graham, a three-term Republican who also previously served in the U.S. House and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, maintains a high national profile. During that same timeframe, Graham raised $28 million which his campaign said represented the largest amount ever raised by any Republican Senate candidate in a single quarter, in any state.

“Yes, we raised $57 million, but we spent $60 million,” Harrison said. “But that is what we had to do in order to get this thing to toss-up status, in order to bridge the gap.”

Television ads in the Senate race have been wall-to-wall for weeks, with both candidates, and the third-party groups supporting them, flooding airwaves. In a memo shared with the AP, Harrison’s campaign said that $34 million of that third-quarter money was spent on television advertising.

Another $8 million bought the same inundated space on digital advertising platforms, while $2.2 million was spent on radio advertising aimed specifically at Black voters.

Some of Harrison’s cash has been put toward an effort aimed at cleaving voters from Graham and steering them toward a third, more conservative candidate who is no longer actively running and has endorsed Graham. The tactic could appeal to South Carolina voters who voted Graham in, but have at times critiqued him as not conservative enough for the state.

Harrison has been funding ads heralding Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe as “too conservative” to represent South Carolina. Harrison’s ads do not inform voters that Bledsoe has actually endorsed Graham, however, leaving the impression that he is still actively running against the incumbent.

Bledsoe technically ended his campaign earlier this month to back Graham, as Harrison began to rise in polling and fundraising. But Bledsoe acted too late to remove his name from ballots, and with the three candidates listed in alphabetical order, his name appears at the top of the list.

When directly asked if the ads were designed to be deceptive, Harrison repeated earlier talking points espoused by his campaign about ensuring that voters are aware of all candidates on the ballot, also adding:

“It would be malpractice on me, as a candidate and as somebody who’s trying to bring this back to South Carolina, not to do every single thing in my power, to make sure that we mobilize our vote and try to get the majority of votes by Nov. 3.”

Some polling has shown a tied race, while in other surveys, either Graham or Harrison has a slight lead. In the memo, Harrison campaign officials note that their record-breaking fundraising “woke up the Republican Giant,” with GOP groups spending $43 million in South Carolina over the past eight weeks.

Next week, Harrison’s campaign said they have booked about $4 million in television advertising in South Carolina. Republicans, including the Senate Leadership Fund, have reserved $11 million in ad time.

“We’re pushing hard, but Mitch McConnell has come in,” Harrison said, referencing the Senate Majority Leader’s desire to maintain Republican control of the Senate. “The only reason that he’s pouring as much money as he is into this race is because he sees what we see, which is Lindsey Graham is in danger of losing this seat.”

In the third quarter, Harrison’s campaign said it spent $4.3 million on grassroots efforts, an amount that represents transfers to the state Democratic Party, as well as promotion for other down-ballot candidates. Thus far in the campaign, officials said, Harrison has invested close to $1 million directly in helping other Democratic candidates further down the ticket.

“We’ve got about a $10 million hold we’ve got to fill, in order to execute our plan to the fullest,” Harrison said. “And I think if we do that, I’m pretty sure that we’re going to win.”

With less than two weeks until Election Day, Harrison said he will continue to aggressively fundraise in addition to holding in-person campaign events, a schedule to which he returned last weekend following months of pandemic-induced virtual campaigning.

“We can’t sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Hey, we broke a fundraising record.’ It ain’t enough to rest on our laurels and feel good about that. It’s about winning this race,” he said. “It’s a good place to be, but the race is not done yet.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

By MEG KINNARD
Associated Press

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