The latest poll of South Carolina shows Trump leading Biden by 10. The last one before that had him leading by six. Trump may not blow Biden out of the water there this year but he’s certainly going to win there. And normally, when a longtime Senate incumbent is well positioned to ride a president’s coattails in a state dominated by his party, he’s a lock for reelection.
What to make of the news, then, that Senate Majority PAC, the Democrats’ top outside group in Senate races, is preparing to spend millions to bump Graham off this year? There are various tight Senate contests in red battlegrounds where that money might be put to better use (Montana, Iowa). And Graham’s opponent, Jaime Harrison, is raising blockbuster amounts of cash himself. Normally a no-name challenger is at a serious disadvantage financially running against someone who’s been in the Senate for decades. Not this year.
Three possible explanations. One: Democrats are letting their white-hot hatred of Graham due to his endless Trump ass-kissing lead them to make foolish, emotional decisions on spending. Two: Dems know something we don’t about the true state of the race. Public polls suggest it’s a toss-up right now, but given that Trump will win comfortably, one has to believe that he’ll end up dragging Graham over the finish line with him (especially with Graham in a starring role at Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing). Three, which I think is the most probable scenario: Dems are raking in such phenomenal amounts of cash at this point that they can afford to go in on longshots like this and not have to worry about spending in Montana or Iowa. Money’s coming through the door faster than they can spend it, especially with the left in a panic over the Ginsburg vacancy.
Whatever the reason, Graham’s prognosis is getting dicier.
The main super PAC supporting the election of Democrats to the Senate is preparing to invest millions in South Carolina — a fresh signal that Democrats see the race against Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) as winnable.
Senate Majority PAC will launch a new, $6.5 million ad campaign in South Carolina on Monday, marking the first time that the super PAC has gone on the air this cycle in the traditional GOP stronghold. The effort to bolster Democrat Jaime Harrison’s prospects includes $5 million in television ads and a $1.5 million digital campaign…
“There’s a reason Lindsey Graham is hitting the panic button and begging for donations on cable news: He’s vulnerable and he knows it,” said the super PAC’s president, J.B. Poersch. “Jaime Harrison has put this seat in play by running a strong campaign and earning the trust of South Carolinians who are ready for change.”
Graham has indeed resorted to begging openly for money during his Fox News appearances lately. This tweet captures the challenge he’s facing succinctly:
Crazy stat: Jaime Harrison, Lindsey Graham's challenger, has added $16 million to his TV buy since Ginsburg's passing.
That's more than Graham spent on his entire 2014 reelect.
”I’m being killed financially,” Graham pleaded for $$$ on Fox News last week.https://t.co/adOSSk9dqt
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) September 26, 2020
In 10 days, Harrison has spent more just on ads than Graham spent in his entire 2014 campaign, which he claimed the other day was the most money that’s ever been dropped in a Senate race in South Carolina. We’ll have hard numbers in a few weeks but the kind of money flowing in to Democrats post-Ginsburg seems to be uncharted territory for American politics.
Graham told “Fox & Friends” that he’s being “killed financially” because “they hate my guts,” an apparent reference to Democrats. That’s true, they do hate his guts. But the dirty little secret of his troubles in South Carolina right now is that it’s Republicans — or at least a meaningful percentage of them — who are holding out on him and keeping the race close. The same poll this weekend that found Trump leading Biden by 10 there (52/42) found Graham leading Harrison by just a point, 45/44. On the one hand, that shows why you’d still bet on Graham to win: A majority of that seven-percent difference between Trump’s support and Graham’s support is likely to end up sighing and voting straight-ticket Republican. On the other hand, this is the third public poll in a row showing the race either tied or within a point. And if you believe Harrison’s internal polling, he has an outright lead there:
Today is a day that so many people believed would never come: a new poll has us BEATING @LindseyGrahamSC by two points.
My life is proof the American Dream is alive and well. This campaign is yet another example of that. In 37 days, we are going to make history. 💪🏻💪🏽💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/sQIzNLDvvL
— Jaime Harrison (@harrisonjaime) September 27, 2020
It’s hard to believe a longtime incumbent like Graham could be stuck in the mid-40s but two of the last three public polls had him at 44-45 percent as well. The fact is that there’s always been an anti-Graham strain among the right in South Carolina, one that’s never quite been strong enough to put him in serious jeopardy but which poses a potential threat in a year like this one when the national climate is breaking against Republicans. Patrick Ruffini pointed out today that we have a fairly recent apples-to-apples way to measure Graham’s popularity in the state. In 2014 both he and Tim Scott were on the ballot; Graham was running for a full six-year term while Scott was running in a Senate special election. Graham was far better known statewide than Scott was. Result: Graham won easily with 673,000 votes … while Scott won even more easily with 757,000 votes. Nearly 85,000 South Carolina voters who backed Scott simply couldn’t bring themselves to check the box for Graham on the same ballot. Many of those voters are still out there, preparing to vote this fall.
So maybe the prospect of Trump’s voters holding their noses and sticking with Graham isn’t as certain as I’ve thought. Maybe Lindsey Graham 1.0 — McCain sidekick, amnesty proponent, ardent hawk (he’s still an ardent hawk today) — alienated enough righties that Lindsey Graham 2.0, the Trump crony, can’t win them back even after helping put three conservative nominees on the Supreme Court in the last four years. If you have a money machine like the Dems do right now, it might be worth tossing a few million at this race to keep the Lindsey 1.0 haters fresh in their hatred of him.
Here’s the ad they’re about to run against him in SC. The theme is health care, as it is across the country for Dems this fall.