WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham won his reelection race Tuesday, after massively shifting from fierce Trump critic to Trump diehard and fending off a high-profile challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison.
Graham’s political gambit paid off. Though he once said the Republican Party would be “destroyed” under Donald Trump, he changed direction and supported him before the 2016 election. Since then, he has become one of the president’s staunchest allies and oversaw the confirmation of two of Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees.
Decision Desk HQ called the race for Graham just after 10 p.m. ET, as he led Harrison by 11 points.
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It was Graham’s closest race since he first won his Senate seat in 2002. Harrison, the former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, pulled in staggering amounts of donations as his campaign to defeat Graham drew national attention. Harrison raised $57 million between July and September, more than any Senate candidate, running anywhere, in history. Polls showed a consistently tight race.
But South Carolina proved it is still fundamentally a red state. No Democrat has won a statewide federal race there in the 21st century.
While Republican Trump critics were gradually driven out of Congress through retirements or primary challenges, Graham has thrived. He had been seen as vulnerable to a primary challenger to his right. But after tying himself so closely to Trump, who is widely popular in South Carolina, no serious primary challenge ever materialized.
Graham was once one of the more moderate Republicans in the Senate — working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill to extend a citizenship path to 11 million people (which went nowhere) and collaborating with Democrats — before fully embracing Trumpism. With Trump’s future in question, it’s not clear which Graham the voters of South Carolina have just reelected.
Graham was helped in his 2020 campaign by a Supreme Court seat opening up mid-election due to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In his high-profile role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham oversaw the successful confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett — and used that platform to beg for money for his campaign. The confirmation was ultimately successful. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, even praised Graham for his leadership.
Feinstein caught flack from many Democrats, who saw the confirmation as stealing a Supreme Court seat. This allowed Graham to campaign on the allegation that radical leftists were attacking Feinstein for daring to be civil.
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Graham’s race was bizarre because of a far-right third-party candidate who benefited from a lavish campaign funded, against his will, by Democrats. Constitution Party candidate Bill Bledsoe stopped campaigning and denounced the ads running across the state supporting him. Those ads were paid for by Democratic PACs and anti-Trump groups like the Lincoln Project in an attempt to siphon conservative votes away from Graham.
This South Carolina Democratic Party webpage supposedly attacking the candidate for being “100% pro-Trump, pro-gun, anti-abortion” could easily be mistaken for Bledsoe’s own campaign website. Bledsoe had pulled in a little over 1% of the vote by the time Graham’s race victory was called, not enough to cost him victory.