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.
Public Policy Polling (March 22-24; 1,175 likely SC-1 special election voters; 648 self-described Republican run-off voters) released the results of their first post-special primary survey and found scandal-plagued former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (R) to be leading ex-Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic (R) by a 53-40 percent count. The poll suggests that Bostic has so far failed to coalesce the substantial anti-Sanford vote behind his candidacy. In the first election, featuring 16 Republican candidates, the former governor placed first with 37 percent of the vote, while Bostic just grabbed second place with 13 percent.
But the most surprising part of PPP’s poll is how the two Republicans fare against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in the special general. Despite SC-1 being a heavily Republican district, the data shows that Busch has a small 47-45 percent lead over Sanford and ties Bostic at 43 percent.
The two results are surprising in different ways. First, many would believe that Busch’s lead over Sanford would be greater considering his heavy personal negatives in conjunction with his highly publicized international extra-marital affair. But Bostic, on the other hand, without carrying such heavy political baggage should actually be in a stronger position than a dead heat when being paired with the Democratic nominee.
The Republicans have had trouble winning special elections during the past few years, even in strong partisan seats such as the one in southeast South Carolina. The April 2 run-off is only a little more than a week away, which now stacks up well for Sanford. Based upon this now available polling data, expect the special general to be much more competitive than originally forecast.