It’s Down to a Dozen in SC-7

By Jim Ellis

South Carolina state Rep. William Bailey (R-Myrtle Beach)

June 17, 2021 — South Carolina state Rep. William Bailey (R-Myrtle Beach), who became the first individual to announce a Republican primary challenge to Rep. Tom Rice (R-Myrtle Beach) has become the first candidate to withdraw, with his announcement this past Tuesday. Bailey initially entered the race immediately after the congressman voted to impeach former President Trump in relation to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

Rep. Bailey indicated that there are ‘enough conservatives in the race to give Mr. Rice a strong challenge,’ and says he is leaving the congressional race to seek re-election to his state House position.

After Bailey’s departure, and including Rep. Rice, there are a dozen announced candidates for the Republican congressional primary in a 7th District that currently occupies South Carolina’s northeastern sector and includes the cities of Myrtle Beach and Conway. In the two Trump presidential elections, the district’s voters strongly supported the former president and with very consistent margins: 58-39 percent in 2016 and 59-40 percent last November.

Normally, a large field of opponents would help an incumbent, but maybe not under the South Carolina election system. The state, like many others in the south, adopts a secondary runoff election process, meaning the winning candidate must secure an absolute majority. If no one can achieve the mark in the primary election, the top two vote-getters advance to a secondary election.

What makes the Palmetto State’s system different is that the runoff cycle lasts only two weeks. Typically, South Carolina holds its primaries in mid-June with the associated runoffs following in the latter part of the month.

Therefore, an incumbent under attack doesn’t have much time to recover before the next election commences. This calendar likely enhances the most common pattern of incumbents generally losing a runoff election if they are forced into a secondary vote.

The large number of contenders notwithstanding, and without Rep. Bailey in the field, the two most prominent challengers appear to be Horry County School Board chairman Ken Richardson and former Myrtle Beach mayor, Mark McBride, though the latter man was defeated in a runoff election for a third term. McBride was also beaten badly in a 2020 special election for the state House of Representatives.

Of the 10 Republicans who supported the Trump impeachment measure, it could be argued that Rice may face the toughest road to re-nomination. Though Wyoming at-large Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson) has drawn the most publicity about her impeachment position, the state system seems to favor her.

Eight Republicans have announced against Rep. Cheney, but Wyoming features an open primary system with no runoff. This means that Democrats and Independents could vote in the Republican primary should they so choose. Adding segments from both of those voting segments could be to Cheney’s benefit.

The other serious challenge is to Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Rocky River). Former White House aide Max Miller (R) had already raised over $500,000 for his primary challenge through the end of the first quarter of this year. A strong single challenger plus the uncertainties of redistricting in a state losing a congressional district signals a difficult primary for the two-term House member and former NFL football player.

It remains to be seen if any of the challenges develop to the seven other members who supported impeachment – only New York Rep. John Katko (R-Syracuse) has no announced Republican primary opposition within the group – though it appears clear that the aforementioned three members face the stiffest competition.

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