Election 2020 Debate

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., second from left, hugs Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., hugs former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at the end of a Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Miami. In between them is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

While the Democrats held their first big presidential debate Wednesday night touching on health care and gun laws, two of the candidates took time to call for another form of change: replacing South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan both weighed in on the upcoming Palmetto State Senate race by saying that if Democrats want to change the country, it means replacing Graham in the Senate.

"Whoever is our nominee needs to campaign in places like South Carolina because we can elect people like Jaime Harrison," Booker said, prompting cheers and claps from the Miami, Fla., audience.

He was referring to Harrison as Graham's so far leading Democratic challenger. 

Booker's appeal to his fellow Democratic presidential candidates was about the importance of getting a majority in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats currently hold 45 of the 100 seats. Republicans have 53.

Ryan squeezed his anti-Graham appeal in while making a larger argument about how the Democratic Party has an image problem of being "elitist" and Ivy League. 

"If you want to beat Mitch McConnell this better be a working-class party," Ryan said. "If you want to go into Kentucky and take his rear end out, and if you want to take Lindsey Graham out, you gotta have a blue-collar party that can go into the textile communities in South Carolina."

Harrison was there, watching in the audience at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, who is now an associate chairman and counselor at the Democratic National Committee, said he did not anticipate the comments.

"Totally surprised... wow!” Harrison said in a message to The Post and Courier shortly after Booker mentioned him.

Graham, meanwhile, was watching from Washington. He joined President Donald Trump in offering an assessment of the debate.

"BORING!" Trump tweeted about 30 minutes into the debate.

Twelve minutes later, Graham weighed in and shared Trump's tweet.

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"Mr. President, I respectfully disagree," Graham wrote. "To associate this crowd with BORING is an unfair attack on BORING people. BORING would be a step up!"

As the debate wrapped up, Graham appeared unfazed by the calls from Democrats to replace him. Earlier in the day, Graham announced he had secured endorsements from all of the Republicans in the South Carolina congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

"After tonight’s #DemocraticDebate.......that whole Trump 3rd term thing is looking better and better," Graham tweeted with an emoji of a grinning smiley face.

Booker and Ryan were among a crop of 10 Democratic presidential candidates who made it onto the debate stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

A South Carolina connection also was mentioned by former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who mentioned going to Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the violence and arrest of church shooter Dylann Roof.

A second debate will be held Thursday night involving 10 other candidates onstage. It will be aired on NBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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