GOP strategists think a bitter SCOTUS battle could help Graham overcome his weakness in SC: 'The tradeoff has always been on judges'

GOP strategists think a bitter SCOTUS battle could help Graham overcome his weakness in SC: 'The tradeoff has always been on judges'
Gage Skidmore

Although Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is seeking reelection in a deep red state — much redder than neighboring North Carolina, which has evolved into a swing state — polls on South Carolina’s 2020 U.S. Senate race have been surprisingly close. Morning Consult, in a recent poll, found Graham leading his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, by only 1%. But Morning Consult’s Eli Yokley is reporting that Republican strategists believe another Supreme Court battle could help the veteran senator win reelection.

In the past, Graham insisted that if a Supreme Court seat became vacant in 2020, he would not be in favor of voting for a nominee during a presidential election year. But Graham, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, has flip-flopped — much to the ire of Democrats — and is now joining President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in saying that a Trump nominee must be rammed through the Senate and confirmed before Election Day.

“Strategists in the state on both sides of the aisle expect conservatives will fall in line for the three-term incumbent and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman as he prepares to play a pivotal role in advancing President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Yokley explains.

Graham, Yokley adds, has been weak with GOP voters in South Carolina. According to Morning Consult polling, Yokley notes, Trump “has support from 93% of Republicans” in that state while “Graham has support from 84% in the same poll — making him one of the worst-performing GOP incumbents up for reelection this cycle among voters from his own party.”

Matt Moore, a GOP strategist and former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, believes that a Supreme Court battle could inspire Republicans to rally around Graham and help him defeat Harrison and win reelection. Moore told Morning Consult, “The Republican base will be mobilized to help Sen. Graham. With Trump’s unorthodoxy, the tradeoff has always been on judges. Presidential elections come down to turnout on the edges, and judges motivate the most conservative voters.”

During the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, Graham was one of Kavanaugh’s most strident allies and didn’t shy away from over-the-top theatrics. Now, Graham is saying that in light of how aggressively Democrats in the Senate went after Kavanaugh two years ago, he has changed his mind about not wanting to vote on a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year. But to Democrats, it’s painfully obvious that Graham isn’t acting on principle — he is doing what is politically expedient during a tough reelection battle.

Democratic South Carolina state Sen. Brad Hutto, who ran against Graham in 2014 and lost, told Morning Consult that Graham now looks like a “flip-flopping liar.” Hutto acknowledged that the flip-flop could help Graham with the GOP base, which he said was never in play for Harrison.

On September 21, Sabato’s Crystal Ball (operated by pollster Larry Sabato) moved South Carolina’s U.S. Senate race from “leans Republican” to “likely Republican.”

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