Challenger demands Graham get COVID-19 test before debate
COLUMBIA, S. C. (AP) -
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison will meet for their second debate on Friday, although the COVID-19 clash raises doubts as to whether the matchup will continue at all.
Harrison threatened to fuel the debate at 7 p.m. in Spartanburg on concerns related to Graham's contact with other GOP senators who recently tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement, Harrison, an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, requested that Graham be tested before the meeting. He and the moderators would have already agreed to do this, and he would not allow politics to accommodate my family and campaign staff, Sen. Graham staff and media representatives who are at unnecessary risk. "
Graham campaign officials pointed out that Harrison had not requested testing before sitting down with reporters from The Post and Courier for an event on Wednesday. Graham said he had "taken the coronavirus threat to our state and nation very seriously" and said he would join the debate anyway.
"What has changed is not the severity of the coronavirus - what has changed is the threat Mr. Harrison faces from the exam," Graham said. "Whether or not Mr. Harrison takes part in tomorrow's debate is his decision, not mine. I'll be there."
In a subsequent statement, Harrison said the test would "calm down" those who have come in contact with Graham since his meetings with fellow Senate Republicans who tested positive for coronavirus.
Graham said both campaigns had agreed rules to comply with federal recommendations regarding the coronavirus and have their temperatures measured before the debate. No live audience is permitted for any of the meetings, and media participation is limited.
The pandemic was central to Graham and Harrison's first meeting last week when Harrison used a plexiglass partition on the side of his podium across from Graham. This is necessary as Graham was exposed to the Senators and also President Donald Trump was recently hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment.
Both candidates tested negative before the initial debate, and Graham said the doctor who oversees the health of Congressmen found Thursday that he doesn't need additional testing.
A third debate is slated for later this month, though Washington politics may complicate that timetable. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham's job is to lead Trump's US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate. Hearings begin Monday, despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done no other legislative work following positive COVID-19 tests from several Senators.
The race between Graham and Harrison has intensified. Polls show candidates are in a dead heat, and both campaigns raise more than $ 30 million apiece, backed by additional spending from millions of outside groups. In the two days following the debate, Harrison raised $ 1.5 million, with donors across the country saying on social media that they would pour the money into a race that is among the most closely watched of this cycle.
Trump led South Carolina in double digits over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Republicans control both legislatures, all state offices, and most of the state's congressional seats. South Carolina is believed to be safe in its re-election column.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
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