By Jim Ellis
Feb. 23, 2017 — Former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney’s (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) resignation officially launches the fourth US House special election, as individuals are now formally becoming candidates. Though Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has not yet set the special election calendar, state election law mandates when voting must occur.
Under South Carolina law, a partisan primary special election for a commensurate vacant position is held on the 11th Tuesday following an incumbent leaving a particular office. Since Mulvaney resigned just after being confirmed as director of the Office of Management & Budget on Feb. 16, the special election clock for filling the now open 5th Congressional District began ticking.
Last week’s resignation means May 2, the 11th Tuesday after the date of vacancy, will host the respective partisan primaries. If no candidate obtains majority support in the party primary, the run-off will occur on the 13th Tuesday following the vacancy date, meaning May 16 in this case. The special general then follows on the 18th Tuesday post-vacancy, thus translating into June 20.
Prior to Rep. Mulvaney being confirmed to his new position, seven Republicans had already announced their intention of becoming official candidates. Leading the GOP pack is state House Speaker Pro Tempore (the number two leadership position) Tommy Pope (R-York).
Before Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was nominated and confirmed as US Ambassador to the United Nations, meaning an open 2018 governor’s race because she was ineligible to seek a third term, Pope had announced that he would enter what was thought to be a wide open, multi-candidate political affair for the state’s top position. Now that Lt. Gov. McMaster has ascended to the governor’s post and will seek election to a full term, it is becoming clear that those wanting to run next year are beginning to back away from doing so.
Earlier, state Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill) preceded his colleague into the open special election contest. Norman first ran for the congressional seat in 2006 when then-Democratic incumbent John Spratt held the seat. Rep. Spratt won that race 57-43 percent, and Norman was out of elective office because he risked his legislative position to run. In 2009, Norman re-gained the seat in a special election and now returns for another congressional race. This time, he can run in the federal special election and maintain the state House seat.
The third top-tier candidate is former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly (2011-2013). He should be able to raise sufficient funding to be a factor but, as a resident of Prosperity, SC in small Newberry County, Connelly does not come from the district’s population anchor in York County as both Pope and Norman do.
Other Republican candidates are former State Superintendent of Public Education candidate Sheri Few, ex-congressional aide Tom Mullikin, human resources professional Chris Taylor, and attorney Kris Wampler.
Democrats do not yet have an announced candidate, but an aide to former Vice President Joe Biden and a one-time University of South Carolina football player, Fran Person, is a potential candidate. State Rep. John King (D-Rock Hill) is also reported to be considering the race.
The South Carolina Democrats were dealt a severe blow when state Sen. Vincent Sheheen declined to become a candidate. Sheheen has twice been the party’s gubernatorial nominee, once in a close 2010 contest against Haley (51-47 percent). But, losing twice for governor, and then failing in a special congressional election might have realistically ended any hope of Sheheen attaining higher office. Therefore, he decided to keep his political power dry for this special election to play in a future election.
The eventual Republican nominee looks to be an early sure bet to capture the seat in June.