By Jim Ellis
May 3, 2017 — Voters in north-central South Carolina’s 5th District cast ballots yesterday in partisan primaries as the people voted to choose a replacement for ex-Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill), now director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Unlike the four previous special elections in California, Kansas, Montana, and Georgia, the Palmetto State neither holds a jungle primary nor a nominating convention. Just as in the regular election cycle, candidates first run in partisan primaries. If no one secures a majority in the first vote, partisan run-offs occur in a short two-week time frame under South Carolina election law. The eventual nominees then advance to the general election.
In a district that voted 57-39 percent for President Trump, and elected Rep. Mulvaney four times by an average of 57.6 percent of the vote, including his initial percentage when defeating veteran incumbent Rep. John Spratt (D) in 2010, the Republicans were heavy favorites to hold the seat in the current special election process.
Seven Republicans are on the ballot, and most observers agree that former state representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman and state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope were the two leading candidates. With five others on the ballot, it appeared unlikely that either Norman or Pope would command a majority of the primary vote, hence a May 16 GOP run-off was viewed as the likely outcome of yesterday’s voting.
Norman had the most in the way of funding, securing almost $600,000 according to the pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing report through the period ending April 12. Half of that amount was from a candidate loan, however. State Rep. Pope, who was planning to run for governor had not Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) become the incumbent state chief executive when Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was appointed US Ambassador to the United Nations, had only banked $226,002 during the same period, which was a surprisingly low amount.
Both of these candidates have cut television ads, but more airings have been through the digital medium rather than the airwaves. (See below samples)
Former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly was running hardest to the right, brandishing endorsements from former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC). His campaign was hovering around the $200,000 mark in fundraising during the aforementioned reporting period.
The remaining Republican contenders were former state Education Superintendent Sheri Few, South Carolina State Guard Commander Tom Mullikin, international ministry aid worker Ray Craig, and attorney Kris Wampler.
Of this group, only Mullikin had financial resources and was attempting to identify himself as the strongest Trump supporter among the candidates in an obvious attempt to capture the president’s support group that proved very strong in this part of the state. Mullikin has raised in the same range as Pope and Connelly, but in large part due to a self-loan of almost $145,000.
The Democrats had a chance to nominate their candidate. Former Wall Street executive and congressional aide Archie Parnell has been more active than his two Democratic opponents, and figures to break the majority threshold.
Parnell’s two opponents, Alexis Frank and Les Murphy, both minority candidates, each have a military background, and neither has even raised $15,000. Therefore, any non-Parnell votes will be split between the two, making overtaking the leading candidate all the more difficult.
Should Parnell prevail, his more challenging task may be to attract national Democratic Party and allied group support. In doing so, he must convince the party stalwarts and outside donors that he has a chance to win in the June 20 special general election, an end result that appears unlikely at this time.