Election 2020

Republican Lindsey Graham Keeps His Seat, but Control of the Senate Remains Uncertain

The South Carolina senator is a key defender on the right of U.S. foreign aid.

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham celebrates a reelection victory in the 2020 race.
Incumbent South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham celebrates a win during his election night party in Columbia, South Carolina, on Nov. 3. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Control of the Senate remained uncertain at the close of election night in the United States, with a few key races that would determine whether Republicans retain or lose the majority still too close to call. However, Republicans had at least one thing to celebrate when Sen. Lindsey Graham scored an important reelection win in South Carolina.

Graham, the powerful Republican leader who pinned his fate on cultivating a close relationship with a president he once derided as a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot,” scratched out a victory over a heavily funded Democratic nominee, Jaime Harrison, in South Carolina’s Senate race.

Graham is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has represented South Carolina for nearly two decades, carving out a role as one of the most influential and visible Senate leaders. But his powerful defense of President Donald Trump made him a favorite target for Democrats, who poured piles of money into the campaign of his challenger. In the weeks leading up to the election, Graham bemoaned his lack of funding, issuing a series of desperate appeals for donations. “I’m getting overwhelmed,” he told prime-time host Sean Hannity on Fox News. “Help me. They’re killing me moneywise.”

In Washington, even Graham’s staunchest critics concede his influential role as the right’s most prominent guardian angel for diplomacy and foreign aid budgets. Graham sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the lesser-known but arguably just as influential appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign aid budgets.

As Graham became more aligned with the president, he continued to resist the administration’s repeated efforts to gut funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. When the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget called for a 23 percent cut to diplomacy and global development, Graham slammed the proposal as “insane.”

“I don’t know who writes these things over in the White House but they clearly don’t understand the value of soft power,” Graham said at an appropriations committee hearing with then-USAID chief Mark Green. 

Beyond Graham, here are other important developments in Senate races across the country:

Colorado goes blue: Democrat John Hickenlooper defeated Colorado’s incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in a win that erodes the Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate. Gardner was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he played an important role in the Republican caucus on crafting hawkish legislation on North Korea. He also co-chaired the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus.

Tuberville turns ’Bama red: Former Auburn University football coach and political novice Republican Tommy Tuberville has defeated first-term Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Jones had defeated Roy Moore to claim the seat once held by former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions three years ago in a hotly contested upset for Republicans. Jones was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Warner coasts to win in Virginia: It’s not a shock that Sen. Mark Warner won a third term in the Senate, but the move could be significant if the Democrats manage to flip the upper chamber. In that case, Warner, who’s the ranking member of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, would take over the powerful gavel, and he has promised to restore independence to the panel. “The Intelligence Committee has got to be independent of politics, it needs to be willing to speak truth to power, and should the Democrats take control, and whether I’m chairman or vice chairman of that committee, those intelligence professionals, the vast majority of who live in Virginia, I’m going to have their back,” Warner said on Tuesday.

Cornyn takes Texas: Border-focused Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the former majority whip in the upper chamber, has won reelection over Air Force veteran and Democrat M.J. Hegar, who ran for a seat in the Austin suburbs two years ago. Cornyn chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee for immigration, refugees, and border security, and he has defended the Trump administration’s decision to take money from the Pentagon budget to pay for Trump’s border wall. 

Democrats flip Arizona: Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly has defeated Republican Sen. Martha McSally, a key pickup for the Democrats. Kelly, who is also the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, polled ahead of Biden in the state, which Democrats won in the presidential race for the first time in 24 years. The race is also significant because it takes out a Trump ally on the Senate Armed Services Committee in McSally.

Ernst ekes out Iowa: Trump ally Sen. Joni Ernst has scored a narrow victory over Democrat Theresa Greenfield in Iowa. The retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Darcy Palder is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @DPalder

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