Jaime Harrison 3

Democrat Jaime Harrison, center, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Lindsey Graham.

In February, longtime Democratic politico Jaime Harrison formed an exploratory committee to look into running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Lindsey Graham.

From the look of things, the exploration is gaining steam.

Harrison, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party and currently the associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, hosted a town hall meeting on March 25 at Allen University. The gathering focused chiefly on the nation’s mounting student loan debt, which has collectively grown to more than $1.5 trillion, according to Forbes and other publications.

The town hall was one of the first public events since Harrison announced he was seriously considering running against Graham, the third-term Republican senator from the Upstate who has increasingly aligned himself with President Donald Trump in recent months. Graham intends to run again, and Vice President Mike Pence will appear on the senator’s behalf at a pair of March 30 campaign kickoff events, one in Greenville and the other in Myrtle Beach.

Harrison told about two dozen people gathered in the basement of Allen’s Chappelle Hall why he has been weighing running against Graham.

“Like many of you, I really have just become fed up with the current leadership we have in Washington, D.C.,” Harrison said. "So, instead of our senator, Lindsey Graham, working to fix some of the issues many of us are dealing with, he has really focused on being, as he says, 'relevant.' Which means being important in the minds of people in Washington, D.C.

“For me, representation is not about relevance. It’s about solving issues and the problems that people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”

Harrison’s comment about Graham’s efforts for relevance was a reference to a Feb. 25 piece in The New York Times that examines how the senator went from being a strident critic of Trump — he previously stated that Trump was “unfit for office” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot” — to a key supporter and golfing buddy of the president.

In that NYT piece, Graham said his embrace of the president was an effort, in part, “to try to be relevant,” adding that he’s “got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country.” 

Harrison tells Free Times he was spurred to consider a run for Graham’s seat following the senator’s fiery speech at the Supreme Court nomination hearing of conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh. The tirade, and Graham's strengthening alliance with Trump, has been decried by Democrats, but Republicans in South Carolina seem to like it. The most recent Winthrop Poll shows Graham’s approval rating with GOP voters has risen by 33 percentage points since February 2018.

“Listen, I was one of those folks who disagreed with Senator Graham on most issues,” Harrison says. “But at the very least I thought this was a guy who was a statesman and who would take a tough stance on issues. Then there was the issue of the Kavanaugh [hearing]. You started seeing it before Kavanaugh, but the Kavanaugh [hearing] was, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back. The theatrics, the behavior.”

As for student loan debt, Harrison told the crowd at the Allen gathering it’s an issue he’s faced personally. The Yale University and Georgetown University Law Center graduate says, at one point, he had $160,000 in student loan debt.

Harrison says he plans to host more town halls in other parts of the state, and student debt will likely be a topic at some of those meetings. Harrison says he wants to hear from young adults about their experiences with college debt before he rolls out specific proposals on how to address the issue.

“This is a huge issue impacting young people across this nation,” Harrison says. “It has a ripple effect on the rest of the economy. It’s something I’ve been focused on for a long time, and I want to make sure, when I roll out where I am on various issues, this will probably be one of the first.”

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