COLUMBIA (AP) - U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has set a fundraising record for Republican Senate candidates, bringing in $28 million in the third quarter of a reelection battle that is swiftly becoming among the more expensive in the country - and his toughest to date.
Graham's campaign said Wednesday the amount raised in the final full fundraising quarter before the Nov. 3 general election is the most ever raised in a single quarter by any Republican Senate candidate in the country.
The haul comes as Graham takes a turn in the national spotlight where, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, he presides over the confirmation hearings of President Donald Trump's third U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. It also comes on the heels of Graham's opponent, Democrat Jaime Harrison, raising $57 million in the third quarter, the most ever raised in such a time period by any U.S. Senate candidate, at any time.
"Our campaign will have the resources we need to get our message out to voters," Graham campaign spokesman T.W. Arrighi said Wednesday. "National Democrats will invest more than $100 million of out-of-state money to buy the race, but the voters of South Carolina know a liberal Democrat when they see one."
Graham's campaign is also quick to point out more than 90% of Harrison's donations have been attributed to out-of-state donors. That figure was current as of the end of June. Graham's out-of-state contribution number was 86%.
Neither campaign has updated geographic donor information to include the third quarter.
Total fundraising in the race has skyrocketed during the battle for control of the Senate. To date, Harrison has raised roughly $86 million. Graham's total fundraising is about $58 million.
Last month, Graham made a public fundraising plea to help him keep up with Harrison, saying on Fox News he was "getting killed financially" by Harrison, adding, "The money is because they hate my guts."
The massive amounts of cash have prompted conversation about what more the money could be spent on, with both campaigns already wall-to-wall with ads on television and websites. Third-party organizations supporting both candidates are also occupying much of the available ad space. The Senate Leadership Fund is dumping $10 million into an ad blitz in the campaign's closing weeks. Groups backing Harrison - including The Lincoln Project, a group of current and former Republican officials who want to defeat Trump, and the Lindsey Must Go PAC - have spent millions.
For his part, Harrison has put some of his funding toward a digital ad campaign aiming to cleave voters from Graham and steer them toward a third, more conservative candidate who is no longer actively running. 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 digital ads heralding Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe as "too conservative" to represent South Carolina. The ads link to a page funded by the state Democratic Party with the message, "We all know Lindsey Graham's changed, but beware of Bill Bledsoe," pointing out aspects of Bledsoe's platform that would actually appeal to those voters.
Bledsoe technically ended his campaign earlier this month, however, 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.
Campaigns have several options with excess or leftover contributions. Candidates can make donations to charities or make transfers to political parties, as Harrison did earlier this year, putting more than $400,000 in coffers of the South Carolina Democratic Party. They can also contribute up to $2,000 to another candidate's committee.
Candidates can also hang onto the money, putting it aside for a potential future bid for office.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
AP's Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/.
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