While North Carolina is a swing state that has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and went for President Barack Obama in 2008, South Carolina has been a deep red state. Pundits have consistently described North Carolina as being in play for former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, but they haven't been saying that about South Carolina — until now. A Quinnipiac poll finds President Donald Trump ahead of Biden by only 1% in South Carolina. And this comes at a time when South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing the toughest reelection fight of his career.
When Democrat Jaime Harrison took on Graham — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee — in South Carolina's 2020 U.S. Senate race, the word "longshot" was often used to describe his campaign. Harrison himself acknowledged that he was fighting an uphill battle given how conservative South Carolina is known for being. A Democrat hasn't won a U.S. Senate race in South Carolina since 1998, and the last Democratic presidential nominee who won South Carolina's electoral votes was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Trump, in 2016, defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by 14% in South Carolina.
But Harrison has turned out to be shockingly competitive in South Carolina. Quinnipiac's most recent poll on South Carolina's U.S. Senate race finds Graham and Harrison in a dead heat. And that poll was not an outlier. Polls released during the second half of September found Harrison either trailing Graham by only 1% (Morning Consult) or leading by 1% (YouGov) or 2% (Brilliant Corners Research).
The new Quinnipiac poll showing Biden trailing Trump by only 1% in South Carolina might be the former vice president's best so far in that state, although Biden's performance in other recent polls has been decent in light of how deeply Republican South Carolina is. Polls released during the second half of September found Trump ahead of Biden in South Carolina by 4% (Data for Progress) or 6% (Morning Consult). Considering Trump's 14% victory in South Carolina in 2016, it's easy to make an argument that he is underperforming there — even if he ultimately wins the state again.
The battle for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court could be a factor in South Carolina's races. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham is aggressively pushing for Trump's far-right nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to be confirmed by the Senate before the presidential election — which is a major flip-flop on Graham's part. In the past, he promised that if a Supreme Court seat became available in 2020, he would want to wait until after the election to vote on a nominee.
Graham's flip-flop is obviously designed to strengthen his support among far-right white evangelicals, but it is also firing up his Democratic critics. During a Fox News appearance on September 24, Graham sounded downright panicked when he discussed Harrison's impressive Democratic fundraising operation and told host Ainsley Earhardt, "I'm being killed financially. This money is because they hate my guts."
Tim Malloy, a polling analyst for Quinnipiac, discussed the fact that Biden and Harrison are as competitive as they are in South Carolina.
South Carolina's The State quotes Malloy as saying, "I would say the president is truly on the ropes right now…. Lindsey Graham is being challenged like he's never been before, which means he's not terribly popular. Lindsey Graham is close to the president. He speaks to the president often; so, it's probably no coincidence that both of them simultaneously have lost enough ground to be challenged."