(CNN)On Monday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham got some very unwelcome news.
The Cook Political Report, one of the preeminent political handicappers in the country, moved his 2020 reelection race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”Wrote Senate editor Jessica Taylor of the change:”While there are still large hurdles that remain for [Democratic nominee Jaime] Harrison to become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from South Carolina since 1998, it’s clear this race is becoming more competitive, and Graham faces an incredibly strong challenge.”Whoa. Big deal.Read More
THE POINT — NOW ON YOUTUBE!
In each episode of his weekly YouTube show, Chris Cillizza will delve a little deeper into the surreal world of politics. Click to subscribe!
Graham has had quite the journey since he last faced voters in 2014, winning a third term by 17 points. Since then he has:* Run an ill-fated bid for president in which he savaged businessman Donald Trump as a “complete idiot” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”* Refused to vote for Trump in the general election in 2016* Become one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders, and, relatedly, one of the President’s preferred golf partnersLike I said, it’s been a wild few years for Graham. And it now appears that being all over the political map has come at a cost for the South Carolina Republican.Harrison, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has raised a stunning $29 million for his race against Graham — fueled by Democratic donors who view the GOP senator as everything that is wrong with the Republican Party in the age of Trump.And polling suggests Harrison has pulled into striking distance. In a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month, Harris and Graham were tied at 44%. Just as important — Trump was ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden by just 5 points in that same survey — well behind the 14-point margin he enjoyed in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.To be clear: Harrison still needs record Black turnout (the state’s population is 27% African American) and solid support among college-educated whites to have a chance at knocking off Graham. The state remains conservative at its core; there’s a reason that Fritz Hollings, a conservative Democrat, was the last member of his party to hold a South Carolina Senate seat.But Trump’s ongoing struggles in handling the coronavirus pandemic — and the low ratings college-educated whites give him for it — as well as the national conversation about race (and African Americans’ engagement in turning out to vote against Trump) make the coalition that Harrison needs possible.Graham has proven since winning a Senate seat back in 2002 that he is a savvy pol and campaigner. His roller-coaster Republicanism of the last few years, however, has created the most serious race of his time in politics.The Point: Beating Graham isn’t necessary for Democrats to retake the majority this fall. But they sure would like to do it anyway.