(CN) — After spending much of the week leading the confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Senate Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham turned his attention to South Carolina and the bitter neck-and-neck race for his reelection.
In a video posted to his Facebook page Thursday, Graham touted the nomination of Barrett, calling it a “big historic moment for the young, conservative women of the world.”
In a state who has not elected a Democrat to any statewide office in decades, polling indicates Jaime Harrison, former head of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has been running a tight race against Graham.
To get to this point, to get to the nomination, Graham had to go against the criticisms he leveled against President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race. He had to go against the statement he made when Republicans were fighting against then-President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination of Merrick Garland.
“Use my words against me,” Graham urged in 2016. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make the nomination,’”
It is at the end of the first term of the Republican president elected in 2016. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left a vacancy in the final weeks of the election. And in a reelection bid that has turned into a fight for his political survival, the senator has been pulled off the campaign trail and onto Capitol Hill where he can demonstrate rather than talk about his accomplishments in Washington.
Yet that comes with its own perils.
Gibbs Knotts, political science professor at The College of Charleston, said it’s a “big lift” for a Democratic candidate to win a state-wide election in a state where every other position chosen by state-wide elections are filled with Republicans, it has been that way for decades, and the Republican Party is strong.
Before the pandemic, Graham was running ahead comfortably in his reelection bid, Knotts said. But Harrison has shown himself to be a strong candidate in an election year “that could be a little challenging for Republicans.”
Generally, the confirmation hearings could ultimately be beneficial for Graham, Knotts said.
“It's kept him in the spotlight and I think reminded people in South Carolina this is a conservative state,” Knotts said.
As the first day of hearings kicked off Monday, Graham, presiding over them, predicted a long, politically bitter week but said the Republican-dominated Senate was only following the Constitution closely. He was the senator to ask Barrett to elaborate on her originalist judicial philosophy.
On Wednesday, Graham defended Barrett’s answers to questions regarding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. And by Thursday, Graham quickly set Oct. 22 as the day the full Senate would decide the nomination of Barrett, which is all but certain to pass.
Yet some of Graham’s comments have given ammunition to Harrison, whose campaign can cut moments from this week’s nomination process, use Graham’s words against him and try to erode the senator’s support among suburban, college-educated voters and independents, according to Knotts.
On Oct. 11, the day before the confirmation hearings began, the Harrison campaign announced it had broken the fundraising record for the most amount of money a senate candidate raised in a quarter — $57 million.
As the hearings kicked off, Harrison sought to reframe the focus on the pandemic and Graham’s resistance to extending Covid-19 relief benefits.
“Rather than pushing for immediate COVID relief for millions of South Carolinians, Lindsey is rushing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” Harrison said in a statement.