Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) overcame tens of millions of dollars worth of attack ads—and a Democratic Party motivated to destroy him—with a victory over challenger Jaime Harrison in South Carolina’s Senate race on Tuesday.
The AP called the race in Graham’s favor just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
“To those who’ve been following this race from afar, I hope you got the message. If you don’t get this message, it’s hopeless,” Graham said late Tuesday as he celebrated his win. “Here’s the message I’ve got: People like what I’m doing and I’m going to keep doing it.”
The result represents a triumph for Graham in one of the most-watched and hardest-fought Senate races this year, a contest that threatened to end his three-decade career in Congress. National Republicans are also breathing a huge sigh of relief, as a Harrison win would have marked a remarkable encroachment of Democrats into traditionally Republican turf.
Harrison, a former Democratic Party official and a rising star in its ranks, made a bet that he could harness grassroots, anti-Graham energy to make himself a household name and galvanize turnout among the state’s Black voters. He entered the race as a long shot, and ended it with most outside prognosticators giving him a solid chance of victory.
By the final two weeks of the campaign, Harrison had raised a staggering $108 million for his bid—the most ever raised by a U.S. Senate candidate in any state in the country’s history. Graham found himself a top target of liberal donors after spending four years as a central character in the dramas of the Trump era, during which he morphed from a bitter critic of candidate Trump to a staunch ally of President Trump.
Notably, during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Graham’s indignant outburst at Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats became a symbol of right-wing rage over the allegations of sexual assault levied against the then-nominee.
Never fully trusted by the hardcore GOP base in his home state, Graham was able to consolidate support in South Carolina and draw on national pro-Trump conservative energy to make a dent in Harrison’s huge resource advantage—even if he had to turn to repeated, somewhat shameless solicitations for dollars during Fox News interviews and in the halls of the U.S. Senate.
Those appeals were successful. By mid-October, Graham had raised $68 million, far more than any other GOP candidate for Senate this cycle. But in pushing Republicans to the brink in reliably red South Carolina, Harrison forced Senate GOP outside groups to spend heavily to defend Graham, preventing those dollars from going to other toss-up races.
In conceding defeat on Tuesday night, Harrison congratulated Graham but said the “hard fought” race showed that “public office is not a lifetime job and that people are willing to hold our leaders accountable.”
“We proved that a new South is rising. Tonight only slowed us down,” he said. “But a new South with leaders who reflect the community and serve the interests of everyone will be here soon enough.”
In celebrating his win, Graham said he had “never been more grateful” to have his job.
“I’ve never wanted my job more than I do now. I’ve never appreciated my job more than I do now,” he said.