South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham holds off stiff challenge from Jaime Harrison, NBC News projects

The South Carolina Senate race drew millions of dollars to the state in its most competitive race in years.
Senator Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham at his election-night party in Columbia, South Carolina, on Tuesday.Sam Wolfe / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has held on to his seat in South Carolina, defeating Democrat Jaime Harrison in a competitive race that broke fundraising records and drew national attention to a reliably red state.

With 55 percent of the vote counted, Graham was leading 56.2 percent to 42.3 percent.

Harrison, 44, who is Black, was born to a teenage mother and raised by his grandparents in a mobile home in Orangeburg. He got his start in politics working for Rep. Jim Clyburn before going on to become a lobbyist, and later leading the South Carolina Democratic Party.

He raised more than $100 million, an enormous amount for a South Carolina race, bringing in $57 million in the third quarter alone.

Graham raised around $70 million, also breaking a third-quarter record for a Republican Senate candidate with $27 million raised.

Sen. Lindsey Graham poses in a group picture at his election-night party in Columbia, South Carolina.Sam Wolfe / Reuters

Graham had faced tough re-elections before, fending off primary challengers from the right who disapproved of his reputation for bipartisanship. He won his previous general election competitions by double digits.

This time, it was Graham’s closeness to President Donald Trump that made him a top national target. For much of the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Graham warned the party of Trump, calling him a "race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot." He quickly pivoted once Trump was sworn into office, becoming one of the president’s most impassioned defenders on Capitol Hill.

Harrison had looked to capitalize on Graham’s 180-degree turn, painting him as an opportunist and untrustworthy. The Harrison campaign and outside groups blanketed the airwaves with video clips of Graham’s past comments about Trump, next to his current day praise of the president.

People celebrate a win for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham at his election night watch party on Tuesday.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, spent the last few weeks of the campaign in the spotlight, holding hearings for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Graham touted Trump’s appointment of three Supreme Court justices, hoping that a conservative court would bring home some disaffected Republicans he needed to win the race.

Harrison bet big on Graham’s unpopularity among certain segments of the GOP, coupled with a growing population of more liberal white transplants as well as the Democratic Party’s Black base in South Carolina, to put him over the edge.

Harrison and several Democratic outside groups ran ads in the final days of the campaign touting Bill Bledsoe, a third-party candidate, as “too conservative” in an effort to shave off some support from Graham among unsatisfied Republicans.

Bledsoe, who had dropped out of the race and endorsed Graham but not in time for his name to be removed from the ballot, criticized Harrison’s tactic as “deceptive, underhanded and wrong.”

A version of this story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.