Republican incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison will do separate televised interviews Friday night rather than debating each other.
Plans for a second debate between the two rivals were scuttled after Graham rejected a demand from Harrison to take a COVID-19 test. Instead, Harrison and Graham will individually answer questions from three journalists in the Spartanburg studios of WSPA-TV. The one-hour broadcast will begin at 7 p.m.
Both candidates blamed each other Friday for refusing to debate.
“We’re disappointed that Lindsey has failed to take a simple coronavirus test, but we appreciate our hosts were able to change the event format to make it safer for everyone,” said Harrison’s spokesman, Guy King, in a text message. “Jaime will be there in Spartanburg tonight to talk to the voters.”
Graham’s campaign issued a statement that said the candidate interviews “will be conducted in the place of a previously scheduled debate that Senator Graham’s Democrat opponent, Jaime Harrison, declined to participate in at the last minute.”
Graham and Harrison debated each other last Saturday at Allen University in Columbia.
Recent polls have indicated that the race is too close to call between Graham, the Seneca resident who is seeking his fourth term in the Senate, and Harrison, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party who lives in Columbia and is seeking elective office for the first time.
Harrison threatened Thursday to skip Friday’s debate unless Graham took a COVID-19 test. His campaign cited reports that Graham was at a hearing with Sen. Mike Lee on Oct. 1, one day before the Republican from Utah announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Lee and President Donald Trump were among a number of people who tested positive for the respiratory virus after attending a Sept. 26 ceremony at the White House Rose Garden where Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court. There was little social distancing or mask-wearing at the Rose Garden event, according to reports and photographs.
In a statement issued Thursday night, Graham’s campaign said he took a COVID-19 test after last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing that Lee attended.
“The physician who oversaw the test and the Attending Physician of the U.S. Congress both counseled him that CDC guidelines did not require a quarantine or additional testing, so he was cleared to return to normal activities,” the statement said.
Graham’s campaign said that he was willing to abide by previously set rules and have his temperature taken before entering the studio for Friday’s event. Graham’s campaign also suggested that Harrison did want to take part in the debate because he is looking for an excuse to avoid tough questions.
Thursday’s developments came on the same day that President Donald Trump said he would not participate in the next presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden after it was moved to a virtual format because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
The Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday then canceled that debate, saying the campaigns of both Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden “each now has announced alternate plans” for Oct. 15, the date of the debate.
Kirk Brown covers government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM.