April 12, 2021

What you need to know about South Carolinas Senate race between Lindsey Graham and Jaime Harrison

  • Former state legislator Jaime Harrison is challenging GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham for US Senate in South Carolina. 
  • Graham, one of the most high-profile Republican Senators and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, is seeking a fourth term to office in 2020. 
  • Harrison is putting up a formidable fight in deep-red South Carolina, narrowly outpacing Graham in fundraising and tying him in recent polls. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.


Former state legislator Jaime Harrison is challenging GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham for US Senate in South Carolina. 

The candidates:

Graham, one of the most high-profile Republican Senators and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, is seeking a fourth term to office in 2020. 

Graham holds a powerful position as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him a vantage point to help execute much of Trump’s agenda. His staunch defenses of Trump and sometimes-bombastic style have also made Graham one of the most heavily despised Republican Senators among Democrats. 

Graham has also been criticized and perceived as not sufficiently loyal to Trump among some members of his own party. Influential Fox News host Tucker Carlson, one of the most powerful voices in conservative media,recently blamed Graham for encouraging Trump to agree to a number of incriminating interviews with legendary journalist Bob Woodward. 

Harrison, a former state senator and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, launched his campaign in February 2019. His campaign platform centers around expanding access to affordable healthcare, building up the middle class, defeating poverty, and protecting seniors. 

His Senate bid immediately gained national attention and attracted lots of funding thanks to Harrison’s unique campaign ads, his charismatic campaign style, and the widespread dislike of Graham among Democrats. 

One of his ads that gained a million views on Twitter, for example, illustrated the story of him approaching a Black man in South Carolina who had never had his door knocked on by a candidate and felt ignored and left behind.

Harrison has now out-raised Graham two fundraising quarters in a row, according to the Post and Courier, raising a stunning $14 million in 2020’s second quarter compared to $8.4 million for Graham. 

The stakes:

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the US Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats and would be a major accomplishment towards either delivering on a future president Joe Biden’s policy goals or thwarting President Donald Trump’s second-term agenda. 

Currently, the US Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats, winning that Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority (if Biden wins, his vice president would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaker vote). 

And now, the US Senate is gearing up for a high-stakes confirmation battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at age 87 from pancreatic cancer on September 18. Within hours of her death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pledged that Trump’s nominee for the high court would receive a vote on the floor of the Senate, and Trump said the day after that he would name a replacement “without delay.” 

Ginsburg’s death threw a stick of dynamite into an already supercharged election shaped by a deadly pandemic that has so far claimed over 200,000 American lives, and a national reckoning around race after several high-profile deaths of Black Americans in encounters with police. 

Trump and McConnell’s posturing on the issue has excited conservatives enthusiastic about the possibility of Trump getting to appoint a third justice in his first term, but infuriated liberals who accused McConnell of blatant hypocrisy after he refused to hold confirmation proceedings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, citing the upcoming presidential election. Senate Republicans held the seat open long enough for Trump to appoint his choice, Justice Neil Gorsuch, to the seat. 

Graham’s role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the process of confirming federal judges, has already emerged as a flashpoint in the race and may put Graham on a collision course with his reelection hopes. 


Like the Kentucky Senate race between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath, this race pits a nationally well-known Republican reviled by Democrats against an upstart Democrat bringing in tens of millions of dollars the race, not to mention the substantial amount of outside spending in both cases. 

South Carolina has been solidly Republican at the federal level in recent years. In 2016, Trump carried South Carolina by nearly 15 percentage points over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton while GOP Sen. Tim Scott won re-election by nearly 24 points over his Democratic opponent. 

But despite South Carolina’s traditional role as a GOP bastion, recent polls have indicated an extremely close race between Graham and Harrison, meaning Harrison could have a shot at massively improving Democrats’ usual margins in South Carolina and making both sides seriously invest in the state. 

The money race: Harrison has proven himself to be a prolific fundraiser, bringing in $28.6 million so far this cycle compared to nearly $30 million for Graham as of June and likely far more now, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Harrison has spent $18.4 and now has $10.2 million in cash on hand compared to $15.3 million in spending and $15 million in cash on hand for Graham. 

Harrison raised a stunning $2 million in just 48 hours after a Quinnipiac University poll released on September 16 showed Graham and Harrison tied, a signal of both the interest in the race and outside enthusiasm for Harrison. 

What the polling says: Polls in the beginning of 2020 had Graham leading Harrison by double-digit margins, but more recent surveys show a significantly more competitive race, with the candidates tied.

A recent poll from Quinnipiac University conducted September 23-27, similarly showed Graham and Harris exactly tied at 48% of the vote each among likely South Carolina voters. The poll found that 44% of likely voters viewed Graham favorably while 49% viewed him unfavorably. 

A CBS/YouGov battleground tracker poll conducted September 22-25 found Graham leading Harrison by just one point, 45% to 44%, among likely voters. 

What experts say: The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics rate this race as “leans Republican,” while Inside Elections rates it as “tilts Republican.”

According to FiveThirtyEight’s US Senate forecasting model, Graham has a 79% chance of defeating Harrison in November. Graham is expected to receive about 52% of the popular vote, compared to 46% for Harrison.