'Dirty tricks': Third-party candidate in heated South Carolina Senate race denounces Dem ads

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Bill Bledsoe, the third-party candidate in the hotly contested Senate race between GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison, has a message for South Carolinians: Don’t vote for me.

Harrison’s campaign and several Democratic outside groups opposing Graham have elevated Bledsoe in TV ads this month, an effort to siphon off conservative voters who may be dissatisfied with Graham, potentially boosting Harrison’s chances against the three-term senator in the deep red state. It’s not an unusual tactic to elevate third-party candidates in tight races, where just a few percentage points could make the difference, and public polling this month has shown the race to be highly competitive.

But the effort in South Carolina has come after Bledsoe suspended his campaign on Oct. 1 — too late to be removed from the ballot — and endorsed Graham. On Wednesday, 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.”

That pushback, however, may be coming a bit too late. South Carolinians have been inundated with several different ads hyping Bledsoe’s conservative credentials in recent weeks. Harrison’s campaign released an ad earlier this month saying Graham had changed after 25 years in Washington, calling Bledsoe “too conservative” by highlighting the issues of guns, abortion and support for President Donald Trump.

This week, two outside groups picked up the mantle. Duty and Country, a super PAC run by allies of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, ran an ad Tuesday also hitting Graham as a “25-year Washington insider who attacks Trump” and featuring a clip of Graham criticizing the president during the 2016 primary. The ad identifies Harrison as a Democrat who supports Obamacare, and calls Bledsoe “too conservative, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump.”

The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group run by former Republican operatives, also ran an ad Tuesday highlighting Bledsoe as a “real-deal” conservative.

The open letter from Bledsoe condemning the effort to win him votes isn’t likely to outmatch the TV ads elevating him. So Graham’s campaign also tried to blunt the impact on the airwaves. His campaign released its own TV ad this week highlighting local news coverage of Harrison’s ad, with a narrator calling it a “brazen attempt to mislead voters” and pointing out Bledsoe’s endorsement of Graham.

Harrison’s campaign, however, made no apologies for their message.

“Jaime has two opponents on the ballot, and we are making sure voters know the facts about each, and about Jaime, before they vote,” said Guy King, a spokesperson for Harrison’s campaign.

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