By Jim Ellis
May 4, 2017 — Voters went to the polls in South Carolina Tuesday to begin the nomination process in the special election to replace Office of Management & Budget director Mick Mulvaney. The results were as predicted.
For the Republicans, the two leading candidates going into the partisan primary, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman, virtually tied in the final result. Pope finished first with only a 112-vote margin, scoring 30.5 percent in a field of seven Republican candidates. Norman’s percentage was 30.2.
The 5th District contains all or part of 11 north-central South Carolina counties. Both Pope and Norman hail from York County, the district’s largest population entity. There, Pope outdistanced Norman by 137 votes. That means the difference between the two was just 25 votes in the remaining 10 counties.
Turnout was 38,903 in the Republican primary with the Democrats adding an additional 18,573 who voted in their nomination contest. The total participation factor of 57,476 represented only 12.5 percent of the district’s registered voters. This number pales in comparison to the GA-6 turnout that exceeded 192,000, as we saw on April 18, but was much stronger than the Los Angeles special earlier last month that drew just under 29,000 voters.
Both Pope and Norman will now advance to a May 16 run-off election, just two weeks from now under South Carolina election law. The pair claimed over 60 percent of the vote, with the remaining five candidates splitting 40 percent. It is these latter voters who will be the major targets for the run-off. Since both Pope and Norman begin with a virtual equal voting pool, each man will need to maximize their number of return supporters for the next election, and then obtain the larger share of return voters who supported other candidates.
South Carolina Guard Commander Tom Mullikin finished third with 20 percent. He actually carried three of the smaller counties, and brandished himself as President Trump’s strongest supporter throughout the field. He could become a significant power broker in the run-off, should he choose to endorse either Pope or Norman.
For the Democrats, as also predicted, former Wall Street executive and congressional aide Archie Parnell won the party nomination outright. He garnered 71 percent against his two opponents, far surpassing the 50 percent figure needed for outright nomination.
Though Parnell will have a bit of a head start for the general election while his future opponent is embroiled in a very tough run-off, the big question will be whether the national Democratic Party and interest groups inject themselves on Parnell’s behalf. So far they have showed little inclination to enter the campaign, and seeing Democratic primary turnout not even equal half of the Republican vote will likely discourage them even more.
With the new Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll released Tuesday in GA-6 (April 23-26; 590 GA-6 likely special election voters), it is probable that the Democratic leadership will concentrate all their resources in bringing Jon Ossoff home instead of investing in the Montana and South Carolina long-shot campaigns.
The polling results find Ossoff clinging to a 48-47 percent edge over former Secretary of State Karen Handel (R), which means a virtual tie. Therefore, both sides will be investing heavily in getting their votes to the polls for this critical and expensive special election.
Tuesday’s South Carolina results suggest the next two weeks will be quite interesting as the two Republicans fight for the nomination from equivalent political footing. This run-off is a pure toss-up.