Friday, September 04, 2020

Race of the Day- South Carolina U.S. Senate

South Carolina U.S. Senate

60 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

If you watch CNN or MSNBC, you have probably seen a campaign ad or two for the Democrat nominee for the U.S. Senate, whether you live in South Carolina or not. This is an interesting strategy that has seemingly helped a challenger raise a lot of money around the country but may not necessarily translate to votes. Clearly though, this race is a cause celebre on the Left and if an upset occurs, it will send them into delirium.

Early in 2020, as a highly anticipated Presidential primary approached, Democrats in South Carolina decided to unite around the candidacy of Jamie Harrison. A lobbyist and political operative, Harrison became the Chairman of the near dormant South Carolina political party in 2013, the first African-American to hold that post. After 2016, he decided he wanted to be the DNC Chairman but fell short in that venture but became more involved at the national level. During his time as Chair in South Carolina, not a single Democrat has come close to winning a statewide office or a Congressional seat beyond the heavily African-American district represented by James Clyburn.

Of course this race is mostly about the Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham, whom throughout his career has stood out for bold proclamations and unusual shifts in loyalty that some find hard to explain. A young Air Force veteran, who had raised his younger sister after their parents died, Graham was elected to Congress as part of the large GOP Freshman Class of 1994, just as his state was completing a transition from one dominated by Democrats to one much more friendly to conservative Republicans.

Early in his Congressional career, Graham, a hard charging conservative took part in a failed effort to overthrow Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House and a couple years later would be an impeachment manager in the trial of Bill Clinton. At that time, he stated that personal behavior and honesty mattered in the Presidency and demanded that Clinton be removed. In 2002, the party turned to him to succeed the legendary Strom Thurmond in the Senate with the expectation that he would be around for a long time.

Graham's stint as a Senator confounded many on the right, even after he had previously supported John McCain for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2000. As Senate colleagues, Graham and McCain became very close and along with Democrat colleague Joe Lieberman, were known as the "Three Amigos." Talk radio figures and others took issue with Graham calling for a welcoming immigration policy and some other things that made him look like a relative moderate, all while being quite hawkish on foreign policy and national defense issues. Had McCain won the Presidency in 2008, it is likely Graham would have had a large role in the Administration. Instead, the Senator won a second term against a Democrat, who oddly ran mostly to Graham's right.

By 2014 and the rise of the Tea Party Movement, many in the heavily Republican state were focused on knocking Graham off in a primary. He made some moves though to appeal to conservatives back at home and avoided a runoff by topping a crowded and divided field of primary opponents with 56 percent of the vote. The general election was fairly easy, even with a former statewide Republican official turned federal convict (and eventual sleazy reality show participant) attempting to run as an Independent.

After this victory, Graham attempted to launch a long-shot bid for the Republican Presidential nomination. Even many in the party who were sympathetic to him on the issues were aligned with other candidates and Graham struggled to gain any traction. One of the things he had to deal with is his status as a lifelong bachelor. He promised that he would have a "rotation of First Ladies" if elected President. Throughout his years in politics, Graham has had to endure quips about his masculinity and rumors of a secretive personal life from critics on both the left and right.

What Graham's Presidential campaign may be best known for though is the way that Donald Trump attacked him after Graham justifiably criticized him. The men would go after each other in personal terms using colorful language and on one occasion Trump revealed Graham's personal cell phone number to a campaign audience. Upon exiting the primary field, Graham endorsed Jeb Bush. When Trump emerged as the nominee, the Senator said his party had gone "batshit crazy" and that he could never vote for Trump, whom he predicted would lose easily.

Lo and behold though Trump won. and even as Trump continued the attacks on Graham's dear friend John McCain, including while he was dying of cancer and even after, the South Carolinian has taken steps to cozy up to Trump. Some saw this as an attempt to try to exert influence over Trump on policy matters while others just assumed Graham had the 2020 Republican Senate primary on his mind. The two men would play golf and were said to talk a lot behind the scenes and Graham has gone to great lengths on most occasions to defend or excuse the record or rhetoric of Trump. Sometimes though, he has expressed some level of disagreement with Trump and Trump then fires back on Twitter and Graham seems to clam up.

Republicans were very impressed by the impassioned way that Graham stood up for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during salacious confirmation  hearings and Graham now is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and has been responsible for helping confirm Trump's judicial nominations. Presently, after not voting for him in 2016, Graham is a staunch supporter of Trump's reelection efforts in a state where Republicans have dominated at the Presidential level. It is also true that the things Graham said in very harsh personal terms about Trump before make him look extremely hypocritical as does his stance on impeaching Clinton while excusing Trump on all impeachment related matters. (And of course, the Democrats who fought back against all the Graham rhetoric and standards against Clinton 20 years ago now fully embraced it against Trump.) In addition to all the things said about Trump, in which he basically said "go to hell", Graham once effusively and with apparent tears in his eyes praised Joe Biden on a personal level.

Right before the June primary this year, Trump officially endorsed Graham for renomination. Still 32 percent of the state's GOP primary voters chose one of his little known opponents. While it would not have made a difference in this cycle, it is true that Graham has benefited by so many opponents running against him and dividing up the opposition. Moving on to the general election, Graham is pretty much tied to Trump and has to come to terms with the fact that he will have both lost supporters because of the shift in his approach to Trump and that there are some die-hard Trumpists who will never support Lindsey "Grahmnesty" (a Rush Limbaugh nickname.)

In the summer of 2015, Graham said that Trump's disrespect towards the military was a "disqualifying characteristic to be President." The news today is about an article in which senior Administration officials confirmed the disrespect that Trump has for the military including the war dead and leaves no doubt about his lingering hatred towards John McCain. One has to wonder what Lindsey Graham must be privately thinking and what he intends to say publicly

Throughout this campaign, polls have shown that the Democrat Harrison is hot on Graham's heels in South Carolina. Some recent ones even show a dead heat. Clearly, Graham wants to keep his job in the Senate because he believes he has the most to offer his state and nation. That is understandable for any politician, but the inner conflict has to be substantial. The last few years I have sort of had the hunch that Graham had perhaps gotten close to Trump and earned his trust only to ultimately betray him in the end in the name of personal vengeance for himself, the McCain family, or just the country itself. After impeachment though, I do not really think that anymore though. Graham just wants to hang on to power and will hop on any vehicle he thinks he has to. In the near future, he may go back to being very critical of the Trump era. I like his voting record in many regards but is hard to see him as anything other than an unprincipled sell-out.

Graham made the consideration that opposing Trump would mean defeat in a Republican primary and perhaps he was right about that. The irony now is that by supporting Trump, he may lose his seat to a Democrat and a far more liberal opponent. While it would still be a tremendous upset for Biden to beat Trump in South Carolina, the polls in that race show a closer contest than should exist for any Republican and there is said to be great motivation in the African-American community to vote. Clearly that will benefit Harrison, even as South Carolina's other U.S. Senator is a highly regarded and politically promising black Republican.

I will still give the edge to Graham in this race. South Carolina is still a conservative state and like some other races this cycle, I think conservatives, now likely counted in polls as "undecided" will "come home" to him at the end, even as they dislike him to this day for once daring to oppose Trump or occasionally criticizing him on relatively minor matters now. If this turns out to be wrong though and Graham is actually beaten, that will be one of the biggest stories of the political year and the last chapter of a Shakespearean like drama.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

15 D (6 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 3 Tossup) 
14 R (4 Safe, 4 Likely, 4 Lean, 2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

50 Democrats (35 holdovers, 6 Safe, 3 Likely, 3 Lean, 3 Tossup)
44 Republicans (30 holdovers, 4 Safe, 4 Likely, 4 Lean, 2 Tossup)


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