Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who went from being one of President Trump’s fiercest critics to one of his biggest boosters, faces a much tougher challenge than he expected as he seeks re-election. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report announced Wednesday that it now considers his race against the Democrat Jaime Harrison a toss-up.
Other analysts still rate the race as favoring Mr. Graham: Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating last month to “Leans Republican” from “Likely Republican,” and FiveThirtyEight calls Mr. Graham “favored” to win. Several recent polls have shown the candidates tied, or essentially tied, which is remarkable in South Carolina, a Republican stronghold that Mr. Trump won by 14 percentage points in 2016.
“There has been no more surprising race on the Senate map than South Carolina,” Jessica Taylor wrote in the Cook report.
Mr. Harrison, the first Black chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a former Washington lobbyist, has proved to be an adept fund-raiser and a strong candidate.
Mr. Graham’s political evolution has been one of the most striking of the Trump era: During the 2016 campaign he called Mr. Trump a “kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office,” among other things, before becoming one of his closest allies.
And in 2016 he made a blunt pledge, as he joined other Republicans in blocking President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was too close to the election. “I want you to use my words against me,” he said then. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, ‘Lindsey Graham said, “Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”’”
But when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died less than two months before the presidential election, Mr. Graham, who oversees the Senate Judiciary Committee, reversed himself, and vowed to move forward swiftly with Mr. Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.
Mr. Harrison has been happy to use Mr. Graham’s words against him, at their debate last Saturday and on Twitter.
In changing the ratings, Cook noted that a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said that they did not believe Mr. Graham is honest, compared with 40 percent who said he was.
But the report also said that the Barrett confirmation hearings could provide Mr. Graham “one remaining Hail Mary,” offering him a chance to remind Republican voters of his ability to help put conservative judges on the bench.