‘I’ve never wanted my job more’: SC’s Graham wins reelection to US Senate

Republican Lindsey Graham wins reelection to U.S. Senate from South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has secured a fourth term in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in a race that mustered astounding fundraising, captured national attention and represented the toughest reelection fight of Graham’s 25-year congressional career.

“This victory is an answer to a lot of prayers,” Graham told supporters Tuesday night in Columbia. “To those of you who have been following this race from afar, I hope you got the message. If you don’t get this message, it’s hopeless.”

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The competition between Graham, 65, and Harrison, 44, turned into South Carolina’s most expensive race ever, with both candidates posting record fundraising that has surpassed $200 million total and continued to grow in the race’s closing days. Harrison raised $57 million in the third quarter alone, shattering all quarterly Senate fundraising records. He became the first U.S. Senate candidate to ever amass a war chest of more than $100 million over the course of the race.

Graham told The Associated Press late last week he had also raised at least $100 million, his third-quarter haul of $28 million being the largest ever posted by a Republican Senate candidate in a quarterly filing period.

Graham often critiqued Harrison for relying mostly on out-of-state supporters, who made up about 90% of his donor base. Early on, through relationships forged in part through his standing as associate Democratic National Committee chairman, Harrison attained a high profile that brought with it small-dollar donors from all over the country, many funneled through Democrats' ActBlue fundraising portal.

In his pursuit of a fourth term, Graham also went outside the state for money, with about 86% of his funders living somewhere other than South Carolina. Both candidates, along with third-party groups pouring money into the race, waged nonstop ad campaigns on television and digital spaces that at times left voters fatigued by the content inundating them at every turn.

To Harrison’s funders, Graham spoke directly Tuesday.

“You wasted a lot of money,” he said. “This is the worst return on investment in the history of American politics.”

Some polling in the campaign’s closing weeks showed a head-to-head race.

But Graham mustered support across South Carolina, where all statewide offices are held by Republicans and support for President Donald Trump remains strong. Graham’s newly minted close relationship with the president played a prominent role, with Harrison and other critics portraying him as too willing to acquiesce to his former foe, whom he at one time called a “race-baiting, xenophobic, bigot.” Graham maintained that he felt it in his constituents' best interests that he align with the president, who has remained popular in South Carolina.

With 86% of the expected vote in, Graham led Harrison by nearly 15 percentage points, a margin that was close to his 2014 victory over a state senator, who had raised about $500,000 total.

Graham’s win Tuesday also appeared to mirror that of Trump, who carried South Carolina by more than 16 percentage points over Democrat Joe Biden.

In the race’s closing weeks, Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court created a dual challenge for Graham. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham was tasked with shepherding the confirmation hearings, which began just three weeks before Election Day, as well as fending for his own seat.

Graham seemed to take the assignment in stride, using some moments to advocate for his ability to represent the needs of his constituents, such as calling the Affordable Care Act “a disaster for the state of South Carolina,” blaming the program for rural hospital closures advocating instead for a bloc grant program. Harrison, meanwhile, called out what he saw as Graham’s hypocrisy on previous opposition to election-year high court appointments and relished having the state much to himself, switching from a largely virtual campaign pushed online due to the pandemic and spending more time holding socially distanced, in-person events.

In his concession speech, Harrison said late Tuesday that he wished Graham well and had hopes the Republican would strive toward bipartisan work in his fourth term.

“I hope he will maintain the spirit of cooperation that he’s known for, while we take a step forward in creating a new South,” Harrison said, using a turn of phrase he’s often repeated on the campaign trail.

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Helen Sims, 49, who works at a Wal-Mart, cast her ballot for Harrison on Tuesday, saying Graham should have helped Americans struggling through the pandemic before prioritizing the Supreme Court hearings. She said Harrison’s upbringing and his youthful energy will lead to better outcomes for working people.

“We have walked in Jaime’s shoes,” said Sims, who is Black. “Jaime’s compassionate.”

Tim Orr, an asphalt contractor from Lexington, said he was voting to reelect Trump after a small business loan and his $1,200 stimulus check helped keep him afloat following the pandemic. But Orr, 63, was less enthusiastic about Graham, citing his uneven support of Trump, but didn’t want to throw the race to Harrison.

“He’s got to be left where he’s at,” he said of Graham.

On Tuesday night, Graham said he heard the voters loud and clear, and that he would carry their message with him to Washington.

“I’m going back to the Senate with a purpose,” Graham said Tuesday night. “I’ve never wanted my job more than I do now.”

Original Story: Over $200M later, SC voters choosing Graham or Harrison

After a monthslong deluge of advertising, attacks and animosity, Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison are finally facing off in South Carolina’s most expensive Senate contest.

Seeking his fourth term, Graham on Tuesday faces his most stalwart general election opponent to date in Harrison, a fundraising powerhouse and associate Democratic National Committee chairman who also chaired the state Democratic Party and worked as a lobbyist.

The contest has been propelled by an onslaught of spending from both candidates as well as a slew of third-party groups. Harrison has bested all Senate fundraising records, becoming the first candidate to amass a war chest of more than $100 million, $57 million of which came in a single quarter — a record on its own.

Graham told The Associated Press on Saturday that he also has raised about $100 million, and his third-quarter haul of $28 million represented a quarterly record for any GOP Senate candidate.

Having defeated all previous opponents by double-digit margins, Graham acknowledges, “This is the biggest challenge that I have ever faced,” with some polls showing a neck-and-neck contest.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Harrison’s self-described “political dad” and mentor, described the Democrat’s campaign as a textbook example of how to develop and implement a winning agenda. He predicted a “good night for Democrats” up and down the ticket.

“Holding the House would just be status quo,” Clyburn told reporters outside a polling place in Columbia. “Winning the Senate would make it good.”

Tim Orr, an asphalt contractor from Lexington, said he was voting to reelect President Donald Trump after a small business loan and his $1,200 stimulus check helped keep him afloat following the pandemic.

Orr, 63, was less enthusiastic about Graham, citing his uneven support of Trump, but didn’t want to throw the race to Harrison.

“He’s got to be left where he’s at,” he said of Graham.

Helen Sims, 49, who works at a Wal-Mart, cast her ballot for Harrison on Tuesday, saying Graham should have helped Americans struggling through the pandemic before prioritizing the Supreme Court hearings. She said Harrison’s upbringing and his youthful energy will lead to better outcomes for working people.

“We have walked in Jaime’s shoes,” said Sims, who is Black. “Jaime’s compassionate.”

The astronomic money has amounted to constant digital and broadcast advertising, as well as mailers. Harrison has used some of his copious cash to try to steer conservative voters toward Bill Bledsoe — a Constitution Party candidate who dropped out to endorse Graham, but whose name remains on ballots — in an attempt to cleave votes from the Republican. Bledsoe has asked Harrison to “cease and desist” from what he calls dishonest “dirty tricks” advertising.

The undercurrent of the recent battle over Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s third U.S. Supreme Court nominee, has also been a factor. As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Graham oversaw that contentious process, where televised hearings kept him in the national spotlight for weeks.

Harrison, meanwhile, has portrayed the 65-year-old Graham as a career politician too far removed from his constituents' lives.

“It seems like our senator doesn’t understand the dignity of hard work, because instead of working hard for South Carolina, he goes golfing with the president,” Harrison said during a recent Columbia drive-in rally.

Harrison, 44, has also highlighted Graham’s previous opposition to election-year high court nominations, including a 2018 video in which he said, “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.”

His reversal after Barrett’s nomination, Harrison has said, means Graham’s “word is worthless.”

Throughout his 25-year Capitol Hill career, Graham has handily defeated primary challengers who accused him of not being conservative enough for the state, where Republicans control both legislative chambers and hold all statewide offices and most congressional seats.

Graham was too conciliatory, critics argued, too ready to work out bipartisan deals. But his burgeoning relationship with Trump has helped elevate his own position with some of those detractors. A group composed of voters from myriad organizations with tea party roots held a press conference to endorse the senator against Harrison, citing anti-abortion issues and Graham’s work to confirm conservative justices as some of their reasons.

More than a million South Carolinians have already voted in this year’s general election, with absentee voting obliterating records from 2016. One of them, 72-year-old Harold Riggs of Lexington, said he was disappointed several years ago by Graham’s anti-Trump statements but said that now Graham has proven his loyalty to the president, noting his leadership during Barrett’s confirmation.

Of Harrison, Riggs said, “He’s telling all kinds of lies.”

“Even though he’s got a sweet smile,” his wife, Joyce, interjected.

Michelle Liu, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed to this report from Lexington, S.C. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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