Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, fended off the most difficult challenge of his career on Tuesday, turning back a Democrat backed by a record-setting onslaught of campaign cash to win a fourth term, according to The Associated Press.
The victory reassured jittery Republicans, who were forced this fall to divert tens of millions of dollars from key battlegrounds to a deeply conservative state to save Mr. Graham. It also dashed the hopes of Democrats who believed a victory by their candidate, Jaime Harrison, would improve their chances of seizing the Senate majority.
Mr. Harrison, a Black Democrat whose upstart campaign electrified progressives across the country, would have been only the second African-American from the South elected to the Senate since Reconstruction.
In the end, though, Mr. Graham, the chairman of the influential Judiciary Committee, leaned heavily on his stature in Washington to pull through. Just days before the election, he helped deliver a singular conservative victory, the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, using the highly partisan fight in the Senate to bolster his campaign. He also benefited from a close relationship with President Trump, who easily carried the state on Tuesday.
Mr. Graham, 65, has been a fixture in Washington since the 1990s, when he was first elected to the House, and is known as a wily and effective political messenger.
He avoided making his fight against Mr. Harrison personal. Instead, he attacked his Democratic opponent as a generic liberal whose policy preferences on health care, spending and judges were simply out of line with a solidly conservative state.
But the close results suggested Mr. Graham’s standing had also taken a significant hit in the state since he last ran in 2014. Before his re-election this time, the senator had undertaken a considerable political makeover, casting aside a reputation as a dealmaking moderate who once called Mr. Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” to present himself as a conservative warrior standing at the president’s right hand. The transformation appeared to have alienated some moderate Republicans turned off by the president, even as it failed to persuade some of his staunchest conservative supporters.
Mr. Harrison tried to exploit those fissures, portraying Mr. Graham as a morally compromised politician willing to do whatever it took to win. Flush with more than $86 million in contributions — a record haul for a Senate race fueled by out-of-state liberals who loathed Mr. Graham — Mr. Harrison blanketed the state with advertising that not only reinforced his own candidacy, but also bolstered Bill Bledsoe, a Constitution Party candidate who he hoped might siphon conservative votes away from Mr. Graham.
That did not prove to be enough. Mr. Harrison simply could not find enough South Carolinians willing to vote for a Democrat.
If he had a chance of doing so, it almost certainly ended in the weeks after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in mid-September. In 2018, Mr. Graham’s fiery defense of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in the face of accusations of sexual assault briefly made him a conservative rock star.
This time around, as chairman of the judiciary panel, he had a microphone and a spotlight in nationally televised hearings to present himself as an ally of conservative women and remind the party’s voters what was at stake. He could credibly claim to be a crucial force in cementing a conservative majority on the court that Republicans have long made a priority.
Now, Mr. Graham will have six more years in Washington. In the weeks before Election Day, Mr. Graham had hinted that he might try to reclaim his independent streak if re-elected. And with the potential of Mr. Trump’s defeat, he would be positioned to have a major role in determining his party’s path forward.
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