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2 key primaries to watch in South Carolina

South Carolina voters weigh in on Lindsey Graham’s Republican primary and a close House race this week.

Amanda Northrop/Vox
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

South Carolinians are headed back to the ballot box on Tuesday — and this time, they’ll be voting in a slew of closely watched House and Senate primaries. Among them: a crowded GOP contest for Rep. Joe Cunningham’s seat in the first district and a statewide Republican primary for Lindsey Graham’s Senate seat.

While the Democratic fight to take on Graham has pretty much been settled — former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison is now running unopposed — the sitting senator still needs to beat a few challengers in the Republican primary before winning a spot on the ticket again this November. Graham — who recently got President Donald Trump’s formal endorsement — is far and away the favorite, though it will be interesting to see just how much support his competitors are able to pick up.

Meanwhile, four Republicans are duking it out to take on Cunningham, a Democratic incumbent in the First Congressional District, who flipped it in 2018. Cunningham faces some headwinds this fall, given the heavy Republican lean of his district and Trump’s dominance there in 2016. He was ultimately able to eke out a win in 2018 by focusing on localized issues and expressing skepticism of Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It isn’t clear if he’ll be able to do so again now that he’s an incumbent — Cook Political Report currently rates the district a “toss-up.”

Polls in the state close at 7 pm ET and we’ll have live results throughout the evening, powered by Decision Desk.

South Carolina’s Senate race: Lindsey Graham is up against three GOP challengers

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies, is slated to win his primary with little difficulty, but the margins at which he does could be quite revealing.

Graham, a three-term senator, has become known as one of the president’s most stalwart supporters on subjects as varied as Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation to his decision to compare the impeachment process to a “lynching.”

Three Republicans are attempting to challenge him this cycle: engineer Joe Reynolds, former Walterboro city councilman Duke Buckner, and retired businessman Michael LaPierre. Both Buckner and LaPierre are running campaigns questioning Graham’s conservative bona fides, including his stances on “red flag” gun control laws, while Reynolds is arguing that Washington lawmakers are too beholden to special interests.

The more competitive race for Graham will come this fall, however, when he is expected to go up against Harrison — who, despite continuing to be a long shot, has raised a record-breaking amount of money for his campaign in the last few quarters. Currently, Cook Political Report rates the Senate race as “Likely Republican.”

South Carolina’s first district: A crowded field of Republicans are competing to flip Joe Cunningham’s seat

Cunningham’s seat, which includes Charleston and its surrounding suburbs, has been a top target for Republicans since he won it in 2018.

His victory, widely viewed as an upset at the time, flipped a district that had been held by Republicans for nearly 40 years. The southern district was previously represented by former Rep. Mark Sanford, and is one that Trump won by about 13 points in 2016.

This cycle, four Republicans are competing to retake the seat: businesswoman and Mount Pleasant Town Council member Kathy Landing, State Representative Nancy Mace, Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, and Bluffton housing official Brad Mole.

Landing and Mace have received the most prominent endorsements and are viewed as the two frontrunners: Landing has the backing of the House Freedom Fund while Mace has the support of top House Republicans including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Their policy platforms have many similarities: Both are ardently pro-life and in favor of hardline immigration policies like building the wall at the US-Mexico border.

Whoever wins on Tuesday will have a tight reelection contest against Cunningham this fall, who could get a continued boost from suburban voters who are turning away from both Trump and the GOP.

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