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Election forecasters see Lindsey Graham's SC reelection race getting more competitive

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Democrat Jaime Harrison is challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. File

COLUMBIA — The two most prominent national election forecasters are predicting South Carolina's U.S. Senate race could be more competitive than initially expected, largely due to Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison's record fundraising against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham.

The Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball, which analyze U.S. House and Senate races across the country, both changed their ratings Thursday of the Palmetto State's Senate race from "Safe" or "Solid Republican" to "Likely Republican."

The shifts indicate that while Graham remains the favorite to win in the reliably red state, Harrison's chance of an upset victory is no longer out of the realm of possibility.

"When we look at this race, it's clear it's no longer one that is being ignored by either party," wrote Jessica Taylor, the Cook Political Report's Senate editor.

Even though Democrats have not won a statewide election in South Carolina since 2006, it's not unprecedented for races in the state to be viewed as potentially competitive.

The Cook Political Report rated South Carolina's 2018 and 2014 gubernatorial races as "Likely Republican." The GOP nominees went on to win those races by 8 and 14 percentage points, respectively.

Still, the changes prove that Harrison's eye-popping fundraising figures — outraising Graham by more than $1 million in the first three months of 2020 and setting a new state record — have garnered attention beyond the state's borders.

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Harrison's campaign manager, Zack Carroll, said the ratings changes "reflect the grassroots momentum we see all across the state."

"And unfortunately for Sen. Graham, we are just getting started,” he said. “Day by day, we are building a growing movement with the resources, team, and energy needed to mount a winning campaign against an incumbent who has lost touch with the everyday needs of his constituents."

S.C. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick expressed minimal concern about the party's risk of losing the seat, arguing that Harrison's money will not be able to overcome longstanding political realities on the ground in the state.

"When it's all said and done, Jaime is another Democrat representing the national Democratic Party that's moved further and faster to the radical left-wing fringe of American politics, and that's not going to sell in South Carolina," McKissick said.

Harrison has already hit the airwaves with three television ads as he looks to introduce himself to voters.

The unusually early advertising start months before the November election has been made possible by his sizable campaign war chest and has helped to fill the void while in-person campaigning has been impossible due to the coronavirus pandemic.

McKissick noted that those ads, which have focused largely on Harrison's biography, have not mentioned his roles as the former S.C. Democratic Party chairman and as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, nor much about his policy views — points that McKissick said Republicans plan to emphasize in the months ahead.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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