U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has agreed to debate his June Republican primary challengers in an event hosted by Educational Television in collaboration with The State newspaper, The Greenville News and other state newspapers, ETV said Thursday.
ETV said the Senate debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 7, just three days before the GOP primary.
Graham of Seneca, who is seeking re-election to a third term, faces six Republican challengers in June’s primary: retired Columbia pastor Det Bowers; state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg; Easley businessman Richard Cash; Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor; Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn; and Charleston PR executive Nancy Mace.
The event will mark the first time that Graham has debated his opponents on the campaign trail.
ETV also plans debates in other contested races, including the Republican and Democratic candidates for state superintendent of education, and the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor. Candidates participating have not been announced yet.
“We’re pleased to offer voters the opportunity to hear from the candidates directly in a statewide broadcast,” said ETV president Linda O’Bryon. The debates will be broadcast on ETV and will stream live on scetv.org and on the participating newspapers’ websites.
Graham’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
Graham’s six GOP challengers have taken part in candidate forums across the state, where Graham’s absence has drawn the ire of some of his opponents.
Graham’s participation in the debate means the strategy of the Tea Party has worked, said Scott Huffmon, Winthrop University political scientist. “They wanted to force him into a debate, and they have. If this were an absolute slam dunk and he wasn’t concerned about this race at all, then there would be no reason to agree to a debate.”
Participating in the debate also could help Graham deflect criticism or set the record straight. However, occurring so close to the primary, most undecided voters will have made up their minds by the debate, the Winthrop political scientist and pollster added.
Two Democrats — state Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg and Jay Stamper of Irmo — and Libertarian Victor Kocher also are running for the Senate seat held by Graham.