Democrats are beginning to line up to seek the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Lindsey Graham.
In early May, Georgetown economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu, a former Atlanta City Council member and Georgia state representative and a South Carolina lieutenant governor candidate in 2018, announced she would seek the seat. Then, on May 29, Columbia attorney Jaime Harrison, the former state Democratic Party chairman, officially announced his intent to run for the Senate post. Harrison had formed an exploratory committee months ago and had long been teasing a campaign.
The Democratic hopefuls are seeking to knock off Graham, the third term senator from the Upstate. Next year’s election could be an intriguing affair for Graham, who once was a rival of President Donald Trump — he, at one point, said Trump was “unfit for office” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot” — but has increasingly enjoyed a cozy political relationship with the commander-in-chief. A March Winthrop Poll showed Graham’s approval rating with GOP voters in South Carolina had risen more than 30 percent in a year.
In a splashy, comic-book-style video announcing his candidacy, Harrison leaned heavily into Graham’s shift toward Trump since the president took office.
“Here’s a guy who will say anything to stay in office,” Harrison says in the video. “Lindsey Graham can’t lead us in any direction, because he traded his moral compass for petty political gain.
On May 30, Harrison, a former staffer of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and currently the associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, touted the campaign funds he raised in the 24 hours following his announcement. He raised $270,000 that day, via more than 9,000 contributions. That was in addition to the $500,000 he raised when he was “exploring” a campaign.
Graham had $4.6 million in campaign cash on-hand following the first quarter of fundraising.
Meanwhile, Tinubu is no stranger to politics. Aside from her time on Atlanta City Council and in the Georgia Legislature, she was the running mate of Democrat Phil Noble when he ran for governor in 2018. A former tenured professor in economics at Spelman College, she also was twice the Democratic nominee for U.S. House in the Seventh District, in 2012 and 2014. She fell to Republican Tom Rice in each of those races.
In a phone chat with Free Times, she talked a bit about what led her to challenge for the seat held by Graham.
“I really believe in democracy,” Tinubu says. “I really believe in freedom for people, particularly economic freedom. It’s why I went into economics. If you don’t have economic freedom, there really isn’t freedom. There are so many people struggling, without the ability to even make basic ends meet, because they are being paid wages that just don’t cut it. We haven’t been committed as a country to making sure everyone has a fair share of the wealth they helped to create.”
Tinubu says she would work to raise the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for a decade. She calls $7.25 an hour “absolutely unacceptable” and says she’d hike it to somewhere between $15 and $20 an hour.
She also says she’d work toward making health care more affordable.
“What’s powering the economy is knowledge,” she says. “South Carolina has always been at the bottom when it comes to education. We’ve been at the bottom when it comes to income. We’ve been at the bottom when it comes to health care. We have to address the issue of affordable health care.
“At the end of the day, if we are in a knowledge economy, if you don’t have your health, you don’t get to play the game.”
While it is still early and other Democratic candidates could join the 2020 senatorial fracas, a primary between Harrison and Tinubu could be a captivating matchup. Harrison’s history in Washington, D.C., has made him a notable voice within the Democratic Party, and his formal announcement on May 29 that he would run for Graham’s seat drew mentions in the national media. A day after his announcement, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it would be endorsing him.
Tinubu stresses she is hoping for fair consideration and support from Democratic leaders in the race for the party’s nomination.
“I think Jaime is a fine young man,” Tinubu, 66, says of Harrison, 44. “But I think he was raised and trained in the old-line Democratic Party kind of mode. I don’t think that’s what’s needed right now for the people of South Carolina. That same good ol’ boy system is not going to work. … The party has got to stop talking about being for women and demonstrate that they are for women. Leave this race alone, leave it open. If they are going to give him support, give me support, as well.”