By Jim Ellis
May 15, 2017 — Northern South Carolina Republican voters will go to the polls Tuesday to choose a special election nominee in the vacant 5th Congressional District run-off election. The June 20 special general winner will replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster) who resigned from Congress to become Director of the Office of Management & Budget.
We remember the results from the special primary vote held 10 days ago that almost ended in a tie. Seven Republicans originally entered the GOP contest, and it quickly became clear that a two-week run-off period would be necessary to determine a final nominee. Few expected, however, that the original vote would come close to deadlocking.
State House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope (above) arguably began as the favorite for the nomination. Ironically, it is likely that he wouldn’t have even been a congressional candidate had not incumbent Gov. Nikki Haley (R) been appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations. The move allowed Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) to ascend to the state’s top job where he can now run for a full term unencumbered by the term limit that would have ended Gov. Haley’s tenure. In an open seat situation, Pope intended to run for governor.
The second major candidate, state representative and former congressional nominee Ralph Norman (below) quickly jump-started his political effort by resigning from the legislature to go “all-in” for the congressional race. His campaign aggressiveness paid off as he drew virtually even with Pope in the primary vote.
With over 39,000 Republican votes cast in the May 2 special primary, Pope and Norman came within 135 votes of each other, with the former leading the group of seven candidates at the 11,943 vote mark followed by Norman who tallied 11,808. In the district’s largest population center, York County, where both Pope and Norman live, the race was almost as tight. Here, Pope placed first by 183 votes. This means Norman carried the rest of the district by a scant 48 cast ballots. Hence, the two advanced into the secondary election.
The Trafalgar Group, one of the only pollsters to correctly call Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the presidential race, released their just-completed run-off poll, which will likely constitute the only survey numbers we will see for this short-term campaign.
Trafalgar (May 8-10; 1,000-plus SC-5 likely special election voters from over 35,000 contacted) finds the run-off falling into the same pattern as the actual primary. According to the data, Norman holds a slight 45.7 – 45.3 percent lead over Pope, again signaling that the race will go down to the wire and be decided by just a few votes.
Since the contest can go either way, conservative and business groups have involved themselves. The US Chamber of Commerce is running ads for Pope (top), while the Club for Growth is actively backing Norman (above). The latter is airing some tough ads against Pope with the goal of energizing the most conservative voters, thus motivating them to visit the polls and support Norman.
The Republican nature of this north-central South Carolina district means that the special run-off is very likely the most important election within the special cycle. It is a virtual cinch that Tuesday’s winner will be the next congressman. Therefore, this vote means more than choosing a Republican nominee, it is for the seat itself.