It’s not that we have a political crystal ball, but way back when, before the U.S. Senate race in South Carolina became a hot national topic, we opined that Orangeburg native and Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison was a candidate to watch.
With the stakes so high in control of the U.S. Senate, the rise of Harrison prompted massive money coming to the Democrat from around the nation. Incumbent. Sen. Lindsey Graham has countered with massive fundraising of his own, with the Republican Party knowing that a loss in South Carolina would be devastating to GOP hopes of holding the Senate.
The campaign has featured unprecedented amounts of advertising from both sides, with positive messages from the candidates being drowned by the attack ads coming from the campaigns and political action committees.
Most recently, a sizable amount of advertising has shifted focus from Graham vs. Harrison to another factor in the race. There’s a third party involved – at least officially.
According to reporting by the Associated Press and others, Harrison has been funding ads heralding Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe as “too conservative” to represent South Carolina. Harrison's ads do not inform voters that Bledsoe has actually endorsed Graham, however, leaving the impression that he is still actively running against the incumbent.
Bledsoe technically ended his campaign on Oct. 1 and backed Graham as Harrison began to rise in polling and fundraising, according to the AP reporting. 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.
When directly asked if the ads were designed to be deceptive, Harrison repeated earlier talking points espoused by his campaign about ensuring that voters are aware of all candidates on the ballot. “It would be malpractice on me, as a candidate and as somebody who's trying to bring this back to South Carolina, not to do every single thing in my power to make sure that we mobilize our vote and try to get the majority of votes by Nov. 3.”
While Graham is unlikely to cozy up to Bledsoe and any endorsement, PACS backing Graham have countered with advertising of their own making clear that Bledsoe is not in the race.
And Graham's campaign released an open letter from Bledsoe condemning the effort to try to win him votes.
"I am no longer running for the U.S. Senate, and any effort to encourage people to support me is deceptive, underhanded and wrong," Bledsoe said, calling the ads "dirty tricks" from Harrison and "radical liberals."
Dirty or not, the tactic of building up a third-party candidate to siphon votes away from another is not new. And that’s exactly what is happening here. Harrison knows that every vote for Bledsoe is one less vote for Graham as he loses none.
As much as it is unlikely that votes for Bledsoe ultimately are going to decide the Senate race, don’t look for focus on the Bledsoe non-candidacy candidacy to go away right into Election Day on Tuesday. If the race is as close as some polls have indicated, every vote will count.
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