Between now and Election Day, we are taking a closer look at some possible election results and why they would matter.
Lindsey Graham losing his Senate seat would be a big, big deal.
Here's why it matters. The U.S. Senate has 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (including two independents). There are 35 seats up in 2020 - including special elections in Arizona and Georgia – of which 23 are held by the GOP. Democrats will need to gain 3 or 4 seats to take control. The possibility of claiming Graham's seat, one once thought securely in the Republican camp, could play a pivotal role in any hopes the Democrats have to take the Senate.
It matters because if Graham loses to his opponent, former state Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison, South Carolina would be the first state to have two Black senators — the other being Republican Tim Scott.
It matters because Graham losing his seat would also strip President Trump of a critical ally should he win his presidential re-election bid. Graham was a vocal critic of Trump before the 2016 election, once calling him a "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot." In fact, Graham was close friends at the time with another frequent Republican Trump opponent, the late Sen. John McCain. But since McCain's passing in 2018 Graham has transformed himself into Trump's staunchest ally and advocate while tying his political fortunes to the commander-in-chief.
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Unfortunately for Graham, despite that public devotion he remains not as popular as Trump in South Carolina. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 86 percent of Republicans have favorable views of Graham, compared to 93 percent who say they have favorable views of Trump.
And now the 65-year-old is fighting for his political life against his well-funded Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. Among other issues, Graham has come under attack nationally for his very public flip flop on voting for a Supreme Court candidate in an election year.
"If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election,'' Graham said in 2018 at an event hosted by The Atlantic magazine. Reminded that he was speaking on the record, Graham said: “Yeah. Hold the tape.″
Two years earlier, in the midst of the battle to get Barack Obama Supreme Court nominee Merritt Garland a hearing, Graham was even more emphatic, urging listeners at a Judiciary Committee meeting: “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president (elected) in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”
During a debate between Harrison and Graham this month, Harrison was quick to use Graham's own words to hold his feet to the fire.
“Senator, you said ‘use my words against me,’” Harrison said, referencing Graham's 2018 comments. “Your promise was that no judicial nominee should be approved during the last year of an election. ... How good is your word?”
Harrison has the full backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has pledged to spend at least $1 million in the race's closing weeks, funding polling, field organizing and advertising.
Other Things to Consider
- The last Democrat the state elected to the Senate was Ernest Hollings, who served from 1966 to 2005.
- The recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the race tied at 48 percent among likely voters, and Cook Political Report changed the race's outlook this month from "lean Republican" to "toss up."
- As of Oct. 1, Harrison and his Democratic allies had spent $29 million on television advertising, compared to just $10.7 million by Graham and Republicans, according to ad tracking from Advertising Analytics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.