With less than a month until Election Day, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s reelection bid, once thought to be a walkover, is now considered a toss-up, as his Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, continues to rake in and spend cash.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report announced Wednesday morning that it had moved the South Carolina race’s rating from Lean Republican to Toss-Up. Graham has represented the Palmetto State in the Senate since 2003 and won his most recent race by nearly 20 points in 2014, but Harrison’s fundraising and the national political climate have imperiled his seat.
Harrison, who is Black, is a South Carolina native who attended Yale and Georgetown Law before serving as chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. He has raised tens of millions of dollars and has been airing commercials in the state since April. According to Cook, the Harrison campaign has spent or reserved time with TV and digital ads to the tune of more than $60.3 million, versus just $20.6 million spent or reserved by Graham. Harrison has been focusing on Graham’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including legislation he co-authored that would have knocked 21 million Americans off their insurance.
Graham, who opposed Donald Trump in the last election, turned into a golf buddy of the president and one of his biggest supporters in the Senate. A group called Republican Voters Against Trump has been running ads with a clip of Graham in 2016 calling Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” which are meant to boost former Vice President Joe Biden but incidentally highlight what opponents call Graham’s opportunism.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham displayed high-profile support for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice in the fall of 2018 that made him a prime target for Democrats. Now, as the committee chairman, Graham has vowed to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, resulting in a flood of donations to Harrison’s campaign.
In late September, Graham started appearing on Fox News repeatedly, begging for conservatives to help him keep up with Harrison.
“I’m getting overwhelmed,” he told host Sean Hannity. “LindseyGraham.com. Help me. They’re killing me, money-wise. Help me. You helped me last week — help me again. LindseyGraham.com.”
Last week the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican PAC, announced it was spending $10 million on radio and TV ads in the state in an attempt to boost Graham’s chances. Harrison said on Twitter Sunday that he had raised over $1.5 million following a Saturday debate with Graham. During the debate, Harrison erected his own plexiglass barrier on the stage, a precaution in response to Graham’s repeated close contact with a number of Republican officials who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Tonight I am taking this seriously,” Harrison said. “That’s why I put this plexiglass up. Because it’s not just about me — it’s about the people in my life that I have to take care of as well. My two boys, my wife, my grandmother.”
Adding to Graham’s trouble is a national climate that appears to be souring on President Trump and many of his GOP supporters. Multiple national polls released in the past few days have shown Biden with a double-digit lead over Trump as the president attempts to recover from a COVID-19 hospitalization and a poor debate performance. Trump currently holds an approximately 5 point lead in the South Carolina presidential race.
“We are seeing the emergence of what I call a ‘new South,’” Harrison told Yahoo News in September. “[It’s] a new South which is bold, inclusive and diverse. You’re seeing African-Americans being able to run statewide for the nominations and win and be on the cusp of changing the history and direction of this country. It’s great to have people who are allies to the issues that impact all of our communities, but there’s nothing like having people from those communities sit at those tables and make decisions that impact the folks in their communities.”
While Republicans are expected to pick up one Senate seat in Alabama, they’re currently playing defense on roughly a dozen seats, including eight rated as either Lean Democratic or Toss-Up by Cook.
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