Senator Lindsey Graham’s bet on President Donald Trump paid off, as he won a hard-fought and costly campaign against Democrat Jaime Harrison.
The South Carolina Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman started as a Trump foe, then turned into a golf buddy and loyalist — going back on a 2016 promise last month when he rushed Trump’s Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett through to confirmation just days before the election.
Graham’s victory, despite getting massively outspent by a top-tier Democratic candidate, suggests there are limits to the anti-Trump backlash in deep-red territory, though Democrats were never counting on winning a state that hasn’t elected a new Democratic senator since 1966.
Graham, who had repeatedly faced challenges from more conservative candidates in primaries thanks to moderate positions on issues including immigration, quickly maneuvered to become one of Trump’s most outspoken allies on Capitol Hill after Trump’s election. Graham’s loyalty to the president solidified following the death of Senator John McCain of Arizona, a longtime Graham friend and Trump antagonist.
That transformation, and his fiery 2018 defense of Brett Kavanaugh after the Supreme Court nominee was accused of sexual assault, turned Graham into a top target of Democrats’ ire.
Harrison raised a record-shattering $57 million in the third quarter alone, bolstered in part by the bitter partisan tensions following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Graham raised tens of millions of dollars as well, and was aided by repeated requests in his many Fox News appearances for donations and major investment from outside Republican groups.
The coronavirus pandemic and Trump’s efforts to topple the increasingly popular Affordable Care Act also gave Harrison an opening, along with Graham’s opposition to the extension of $600-a-week unemployment benefits enacted in a March stimulus package.
Graham repeatedly argued that South Carolina voters did not want a more liberal senator and that they would reward him for backing conservative judges.
At the same time, he faced anger from some on the right, including Fox Business commentator Lou Dobbs, who thought Graham hadn’t done enough to help Trump tar Democrats with his Judiciary gavel.
Harrison, 44, had touted his life story, growing up as a poor African American in South Carolina, getting a scholarship to Yale University and later earning a law degree from Georgetown. He worked for House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn — the highest ranking African-American in Congress and an elder statesman of South Carolina politics. Harrison later became chairman of the state Democratic Party and a lobbyist.
— With assistance by Marissa Horn
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