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Poll: SC's US Senate race between Lindsey Graham, Jaime Harrison remains tied

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

COLUMBIA — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham continues to face the most competitive challenge of his political career less than seven weeks out from Election Day, as a new poll Wednesday again found the South Carolina Republican tied with Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison.

The survey from Quinnipiac University found Graham and Harrison both drawing 48 percent support from likely voters in South Carolina, with just 3 percent saying they are not sure who they are going to vote for on Nov. 3.

"A victor by almost 16 points back in 2014, Sen. Graham stares down the first real test of his Senate tenure," said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy. "Outspent and accused by some of being a Trump apologist, he is in a precarious tie."

In the presidential race, Republican incumbent Donald Trump maintains a 6-point lead over Democratic challenger Joe Biden in South Carolina, 51 percent to 45 percent.

Those results suggest that not all Trump supporters in the state are necessarily planning to vote for Graham, who has become one of the president's most vocal congressional allies in recent years but was a harsh critic of him during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The latest Quinnipiac numbers comes six weeks after their initial survey of the race found it locked in a dead heat — a result that turned up the temperature on a contest in which both campaigns were already aggressively competing.

After Graham began the race with a sizable advantage, Harrison gradually closed the gap over the first year of his campaign. It has been relatively static over the past few months, with multiple polls showing a neck-and-neck race.

The number of persuadable voters appears to be small as the race barrels into the home stretch. Some 93 percent of respondents in the Quinnipiac results Wednesday said they had made up their mind about who they are voting for while just 6 percent said they might change their mind.

Graham's campaign unveiled a new website shortly before Wednesday's release calling his opponent "Hiding Harrison" and criticizing him for shifting his stance on some issues, naming single-payer government-funded health care and the "Green New Deal" proposal to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Harrison, meanwhile, has similarly hit Graham for changing his position on offshore drilling. In 2013, Graham sponsored a bill to allow drilling for oil of South Carolina's coast, but he applauded a recent decision by Trump to ban those efforts for the next 12 years.

As Malloy noted, money has been a crucial component of Harrison's rise. The first-time candidate has repeatedly outraised Graham in recent months, shattering South Carolina records along the way.

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Harrison's campaign announced he raised a staggering $10.6 million in August alone — more than Graham brought in for April, May and June combined, and more than most previous South Carolina candidates raised for their entire runs.

With both campaigns raking in cash, the resources have allowed them to blitz television airwaves months in advance of the election, far earlier than campaigns can typically afford.

Graham has highlighted Harrison's past as a Washington lobbyist and a high-ranking official at the Democratic National Committee, while Harrison has brought forward former Graham supporters who say they believe he has changed from his previous reputation as a moderate compromiser.

Graham has also sought to elevate law and order as the "defining issue of the election," amid at violence in some cities around the country. According to the new poll, a plurality of South Carolina voters agree with him, as 23 percent cited it as their most important issue when deciding who to vote for in the Senate contest.

That issue was followed by the economy at 22 percent, the coronavirus pandemic at 12 percent, racial inequality at 12 percent and the U.S. Supreme Court at 11 percent.

Graham campaign spokesman T.W. Arrighi brushed off the head-to-head result and reiterated his response to earlier public polls, questioning Quinnipiac's understanding of South Carolina politics and saying the campaign's internal polls show Graham is on track to win the race.

Republicans also questioned Quinnipiac's polling sample, which showed 34 percent of respondents identifying as Republicans. In the 2016 general election, a CNN exit poll of South Carolina voters found 46 percent were Republicans, a number that GOP officials argue more closely reflects the true partisan breakdown of the state.

Still, Harrison campaign manager Zack Carroll said Graham is "in for the race of his life."

"Lindsey Graham has changed after 25 years in Washington into someone who puts his political fortunes ahead of problem solving," Carroll said. "Voters are turning towards Jaime Harrison, who will work hard to deliver real results and represent South Carolina values in the U.S. Senate."

The Quinnipiac poll of 969 self-identified likely voters in South Carolina was conducted by telephone from Sept. 10-14 and had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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