South Carolina Senate debate format changed


COLUMBIA, S.C. (NewsNation Now) — Hours before the second debate between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, event organizers changed the format to back-to-back, one-on-one interviews. The change comes after both campaigns clashed over COVID-19 concerns that stirred doubts about whether the debate would go on as scheduled.

NewsNation affiliate WSPA-TV said Friday afternoon that Graham and Harrison “will each take part in individual interviews” that evening and answer questions from a moderator and panelists.

Harrison threatened to cancel the debate, scheduled for 7 p.m. in Spartanburg, over concerns related to Graham’s exposure to other GOP senators who have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, Harrison, an associate Democratic National Committee chairman, demanded that Graham be tested before the meeting, saying that he and moderators had already agreed to do so and that he wouldn’t “allow politics to put my family, my campaign staff, Sen. Graham’s staff, and members of the media at unnecessary risk.”

Graham campaign officials pointed out that Harrison had not demanded testing before sitting down with reporters from The Post and Courier newspaper for an event Wednesday. Saying he had “taken the coronavirus threat to our state and nation very seriously,” Graham said he would attend the debate regardless.

“What has changed is not the seriousness of coronavirus — what has changed is the threat Mr. Harrison faces from scrutiny,” Graham said. “Whether Mr. Harrison attends tomorrow’s debate is his decision, not mine. I will be there.”

In a subsequent statement, Harrison said the test would “give peace of mind” to those who have come into contact with Graham since his meetings with other Senate Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Graham said both campaigns had agreed to rules to abide by federal recommendations concerning the coronavirus and have their temperatures taken before the debate. No live audiences are permitted for any of the meetings, and media attendance is limited.

Harrison spokesman Guy King said in a statement that the campaign was “disappointed that Lindsey has failed to take a simple coronavirus test” but was glad the event could be salvaged in a new format.

Both candidates tested negative before the first debate, and Graham has said that the physician who oversees the health of members of Congress noted Thursday that he does not require additional testing.

A third debate is scheduled for later this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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