GOOSE CREEK, S.C. — Kenyatta Grimmage likes to talk politics with his customers during the 20 or so minutes it takes to give each of them a haircut at Howard’s Barber Shop, which is Black-owned and also a school for apprentice barbers that takes up two small ranch homes along a busy roadway near the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.
In recent years, the conversations have been pessimistic about the state of politics in Washington, but Grimmage, 39, said there’s been a noticeable shift in tone in recent weeks. It’s something he’s never seen before — an excitement to vote, particularly in the tight race for South Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat between the Republican incumbent, Lindsey Graham, and his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison.
“It felt like a lost cause for so long,” Grimmage said, adding that many of his middle-age and older clients have registered to vote for the first time. “It felt like it didn’t matter if you voted or not — Lindsey Graham, Republicans, were going to be elected. But people are more energized now to push back against the negativity we’re seeing. Jaime Harrison represents that push back.”
The Harrison-Graham race has gained national attention for the tight polling numbers between a well-known GOP stalwart seeking his fourth term who has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump, after losing the party’s presidential nomination to him in 2016 and denigrating Trump as the party’s standard bearer, and an insurgent Democrat whose message of resetting the political conversation has helped him raise an eye-popping $57 million in the final weeks of the race.
Harrison, 44, who is Black and a former state party chair, congressional aide and lawyer, was initially considered a long shot — South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in 22 years. But he quickly has turned the state, which voted for Trump by more than 14 points in 2016 and re-elected Graham, who is 65, by a slightly bigger margin in 2014, into a question mark in 2020.
Harrison has done that by reinvigorating a Democratic state party that, like many in the South, had not received much attention or investment from the national party in recent decades. He has helped expand voter outreach and taken advantage of party operatives who organized in the state during a contentious presidential primary, one that helped secure the presidential nomination for Joe Biden. (Republicans canceled their state primary.)
Many Black voters in the state have said that Harrison is a candidate who looks like them and rose above a working-class upbringing in rural Orangeburg to become the first member of his family to graduate college and attend law school.
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