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Cook Political Report moves South Carolina Senate race to 'toss-up'

The Cook Political Report on Wednesday shifted the South Carolina Senate race from “lean Republican” in favor of incumbent Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg Murkowski predicts Barrett won't overturn Roe v. Wade Biden seeks to close any path for Trump win in race's final days MORE (R) to a “toss-up,” giving Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison a boost weeks before the election.

The nonpartisan election handicapper said it appeared that Graham would “cruise to reelection” earlier this year but on Wednesday described Harrison as “Democrats’ best recruit and a fundraising behemoth.”

“Many Republicans have privately voiced frustrations that Graham’s campaign didn’t take the challenge from Harrison — a charismatic 44-year-old African-American former state party chairman who tells a compelling story of growing up with a teen mother and being raised by his grandparents in impoverished Orangeburg — seriously enough from the get-go,” Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report, wrote in the latest analysis. 

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Polls have shown the Senate race in a statistical tie after Graham enjoyed a double-digit lead earlier this year. A poll released late last month showed Graham in the lead by just a single point.

Harrison has proven to be a formidable opponent for Graham, who has been easily reelected by double-digit margins since first winning his seat in 2002. The Democrat has put the Republican on defense in the Palmetto State, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE carried in 2016 by more than 14 points.

Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, has also outraised Graham in each quarter, pulling in $7.37 million and $14 million, respectively.

“Democrats expect a historic third-quarter fundraising haul from Harrison too, who’s been raising money at a fast clip ($10.6 million in August alone) even before Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgBarrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice by Thomas Roberts to administer judicial oath to Barrett Tuesday Hillary Clinton tweets 'vote them out' after Senate GOP confirm Barrett MORE’s death last month where ActBlue donations poured into campaigns across the board,” according to Cook Political Report.

Harrison has also been boosted by Democratic groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which last month announcing a seven-figure investment on his behalf and Senate Majority PAC coming in with another $6.5 million.

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Graham appeared on Fox News to plead for donations last month.

"My opponent will raise $100 million in the state of South Carolina,” Graham said. “The most money ever spent in the history of the state on a Senate race in this state was by me in 2014 when I spent $13 million.”

“I'm being killed financially. This money is because they hate my guts.”

The swing from the election forecaster also came after Harrison and Graham faced off in their first Senate debate this week. The two were separated onstage by a plexiglass barrier Harrison brought as he repeatedly evoked the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state. 

“Even some Republicans privately concede it was Harrison, not Graham, who came out looking stronger from that showdown,” according to Cook Political Report.

However, Taylor noted that Graham still has “one remaining Hail Mary,” which is in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett.

“Republicans certainly hope that heavy coverage can help consolidate Republican votes and remind them why they want to vote for a GOP majority on judges, with Graham being the only way to get that,” she wrote.