Sen. Lindsey Graham was reelected to a fourth term Tuesday night, fending off Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in the most difficult race of the South Carolina Republican’s career.
A one-time antagonist of President Donald Trump who morphed into a close ally, Graham overcame a steep financial disadvantage and the president’s sagging poll numbers to defeat Harrison, the best-funded Senate candidate in history.
Graham’s victory is a major relief for Senate Republicans, who were aghast at recent polls suggesting Harrison had made South Carolina a tossup after Trump won the state by nearly 15 points in 2016.
Graham won in part by portraying Harrison as a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party in Washington and by defending his close relationship with Trump, describing it as beneficial to his constituents.
Harrison rejected that argument, making the race competitive by focusing on local issues and largely eschewing Trump, who remains popular in the state.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Graham zeroed in on Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, touting his role leading the effort as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also warned of dire consequences if Democrats take control of the Senate, citing Democratic leaders’ vague threats of retribution if they win power.
Harrison sought to capitalize on Graham’s involvement in the confirmation process, hammering Graham over his reversal from 2018, when he said he would not move a Supreme Court nomination through the chamber in an election year. Barrett was confirmed just eight days before the 2020 election.
The Supreme Court fight accelerated an unprecedented flow of cash into the state, and especially into Harrison’s campaign. Harrison smashed Senate fundraising records, raising a staggering $57 million in the third quarter of 2020; Graham raised $28 million in the same time frame, less than half of Harrison’s haul but enough to set a record for a Republican Senate candidate.
A super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) spent tens of millions of dollars in the final days of the campaign, an indication that Republicans feared Graham could lose.
Harrison sought to portray Graham as a hypocrite who long lost touch with South Carolinians as he cultivated relationships in Washington. Harrison largely avoided criticizing the president throughout the campaign, knowing it would be a risky gambit in a state where Trump remains popular.
At 65 years old, Graham has served in Congress for 25 years. His tenure began with four terms in the House of Representatives, where he gained national prominence as an impeachment manager in the trial against President Bill Clinton.
While he ran as a conventional Republican in 2020, Graham has long drawn the ire of conservatives. During his 2014 reelection campaign, Graham took the so-called tea party head-on, highlighting his bipartisan credentials and moderate views on immigration, gun control and other issues.
Harrison, 44, worked on Capitol Hill and as a lobbyist before returning home to South Carolina. He served as the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party for four years and currently serves as an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, after losing a run for the chairman’s job in 2017.
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