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Republican Senator From South Carolina In A Fight For His Political Life


One of the most high-profile Senate Republicans who also happens to be one of President Trump's closest allies is in a fight for his political life. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison. So how did the Senate race in a reliably red state become so competitive? Well, to help us answer that question, we're joined now by Jessica Taylor of The Cook Political Report. They've just classified the race as a toss-up.

Hey, Jess.

JESSICA TAYLOR: Hey, there. Good to be with you, Ailsa.

CHANG: Good to have you. So as you point out in your story today, you know, earlier this year, Lindsey Graham looked like he was just going to cruise to reelection, as he has in the past. What has happened?

TAYLOR: Well, I think a couple of things is that 2020 is turning out to be such a unique political year, of course. And this really was a perfect storm of sorts. So Jamie Harrison got in. He is - he was the first African American state party chairman there. He, you know, started raising just millions of dollars early on to make this very competitive, and he was able to go on air very early in April running a lot of positive ads. I think Graham's campaign didn't take this challenge seriously.

And then, of course, when the pandemic hit and we really saw President Trump's numbers go down everywhere in the country - and, you know, South Carolina was eventually hard-hit, as many states were - this really became more of a race.

And then you have Graham there, who has been one of the - you know, you used to cover Congress. You know...

CHANG: Yeah.

TAYLOR: He's been one of the most interesting people to watch there because he used to be the sort of pragmatic senator, you know, best friends with the late Sen. John McCain and really criticized President Trump when he made his own, you know, very short-lived presidential campaign. And now he's, you know, President Trump's favorite golf buddy. So that sort of evolution has not sat well...

CHANG: Right.

TAYLOR: ...With some people there in the state.

CHANG: Well, tell us a little more about Jamie Harrison. I mean, he has turned out to be quite an incredibly strong fundraiser. Like, who is he? How's he used all of that money to mount such a serious challenge to Graham?

TAYLOR: From what he's been telling us, he has such a unique story. He's the son of a teenage mother raised by his grandparents in Orangeburg, S.C. That's one of the most impoverished areas of the state. He ended up going to Yale and Georgetown and then was the floor director for now-Whip James Clyburn there of South Carolina, became a lobbyist then - which Graham has really hit him on in some of his ads. But Harrison - sort of his ads have been this uplifting story. And it's really interesting. He's making a real play for moderates in the state and especially for disaffected, white suburban women, which is what we see - you know, the story, I think, of 2018 and 2020. So a lot of his ads, for instance, are with white women, older women in the state saying, you know what? I voted for Lindsey Graham for years, but he's changed. I just can't trust him anymore. And then he's also hammering home health care, too, which, of course, we saw was a message that Democrats successfully ran on in 2018...

CHANG: Right.

TAYLOR: ...When they flipped the House. Now it could help them flip back the Senate even in a state as red as South Carolina.

CHANG: So interesting - well, Lindsey Graham chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is going to be holding confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett next week. How much do you expect those hearings to help Graham's case for reelection?

TAYLOR: This is a sort of last hail Mary because he's really hammering this home, saying that, you know, you want conservative judges. You want this to be the lasting legacy of sort of the Trump presidency. You need to vote for me because he's sort of - you know, Harrison is going to vote for liberal judges and, you know, push through liberal ideas. And, you know, he's struggling with fundraising. He needs a boost. He needs sort of those, you know, Republican...

CHANG: Right.

TAYLOR: Maybe their - you know, Republican voters to sort of come back home. And he really hopes that this - you know, he's going to be in that chair, that this can bring them back.

CHANG: That is Jessica Taylor of The Cook Political Report.

Thank you, Jess.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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