Outside groups have spent more on advertising and outreach against Democrats Jaime Harrison (left) and Joe Cunningham than against their GOP opponents | Ruta Smith file photos

Millions of dollars in outside money targeted Democrats seeking office in South Carolina during the 2020 election, eclipsing non-campaign spending targeting Republicans, according to one campaign finance watchdog group.

On top of the hundreds of millions of dollars raised and spent by political campaigns, outside groups have also spent heavily in close races across the country. Spending by outside groups in the U.S. Senate and 1st Congressional District elections in South Carolina dwarfed other contests, with a combined $62 million spent in support of candidates from both parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The spending often takes the form of TV commercials and other advertising or targeted mail outreach.

Major outside spending has come from party-aligned political action committees that have the ability to raise almost unlimited sums of money and often do not have to disclose individual donors. Outside groups have reportedly spent a combined $2.85 billion during the 2020 cycle, with liberally aligned groups reporting spending 55 percent of that total.

But in the race between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, outside groups have spent more to target Harrison, who has had a significant campaign cash advantage over the incumbent Graham.

In all, $25.5 million has been spent opposing Harrison, while $13.51 million in outside spending has targeted Graham, according to the center, which runs opensecrets.org.

Still, in what has become a historically expensive statewide race, Harrison’s campaign likely maintains an overall spending lead, reporting $105 million in receipts to the Federal Election Commission in mid-October, compared to Graham’s $63.75 million. Almost all the donations for both candidates have been from out-of-state donors: 92.7% for Harrison and 86.53% for Graham.

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The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republican consultants, has been one of the highest-profile outside spenders in the 2020 race
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Republican-aligned Senate Leadership Fund PAC is the biggest outside spender nationwide, burning through $241 million to support Republican candidates for U.S. Senate

In the 1st Congressional District, outside spending is a bit more evenly matched. Roughly $7.03 million has been spent by outside groups against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, with $5.89 million spent against Republican challenger, state Rep. Nancy Mace.

But while outside spending in the Senate race added up to a fraction of the total spent when accounting for campaign spending, outside groups have more than doubled the combined amount spent by the Mace and Cunningham campaigns, which have smaller budgets and cover a smaller geographic area. Mace reported $3.88 million in total spending during the election, while Cunningham reported spending $6.11 million.

Record turnout is expected by the time the polls close on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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