SC Filing Closes; Rep. Rice in Battle

By Jim Ellis

South Carolina’s 7th District contest will be the race to watch on June 14. (Go to Interactive Map on FiveThirtyEight.com)

April 4, 2022 — South Carolina election officials late last week published the 2022 qualified candidates list after filing closed the previous day, and there are several points of note for the June 14 primary election.

While several notable Republican figures were at one point talking about challenging Gov. Henry McMaster in this year’s GOP primary, none did, and he should have an easy re-election campaign not only in the primary, but the general election, too.

McMaster, as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2017, ascended to the governorship to fill the unexpired portion of then-Gov. Nikki Haley’s second term after she resigned to become US Ambassador to the United Nations. This allowed Gov. McMaster to serve the final two years of the Haley term and run for a pair of consecutive stints in his own right. After winning again this past November and serving the next full term, Gov. McMaster will be the longest-serving state chief executive in South Carolina history.

Sen. Tim Scott (R) is poised to win a second full term. He is unopposed in the Republican primary and his strongest general election competition comes from state Rep. Krystle Matthews (D-Ladson). Sen. Scott was originally appointed to the Senate in 2013, serving the four-year balance of Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R) term after the latter’s resignation. Scott was easily elected in his own right in 2016 with a 61-37 percent victory.

In the House races, primary challenges are on tap for Reps. Nancy Mace (R-Charleston), William Timmons (R-Greenville), Jim Clyburn (D-Columbia) and Tom Rice (R-Myrtle Beach). Reps. Joe Wilson (R-Springdale), Jeff Duncan (R-Laurens), and Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill) are unopposed for re-nomination. Rep. Duncan has no opposition in June or November.

Rep. Mace is fighting a challenge from 2018 GOP congressional nominee Katie Arrington, a former state representative who is a Trump appointee and has the former president’s endorsement.

Freshman Rep. Timmons faces three GOP opponents, two of whom have run unsuccessfully in other elections. The congressman will face business consultant Ken Hill (D) in the general election.

Rep. Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, sees two Democratic opponents file against him, but he will have little trouble in winning both the primary and general election.

Rep. Rice, on the other hand, has major competition. One of the 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching then-President Trump over the Jan. 6 situation, the congressman was originally facing a dozen GOP opponents. At the end of the filing process, six would not follow through with their challenge, but six did become official qualified candidates, including his three main competitors, state Rep. Russell Fry (R-Surfside Beach), former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, and Horry County School Board chairman Ken Richardson.

Former President Trump has taken aim at Rep. Rice, as he has with at least eight of the other nine GOP members who voted to bar him from running for office again, and endorsed state Rep. Fry. For his part, Rep. Rice has doubled-down on his action, saying he would again vote against Trump because he thought the former president’s action was wrong.

Normally, a crowded field would help an embattled incumbent, but in a runoff state like South Carolina, such is not the case. The theory being a group of opponents splitting the anti-incumbent vote usually allows the target to win with a plurality. In a runoff state, the crowded field, thus giving the voters more options, often sends the incumbent into a runoff. In such a situation, with a majority of the voters already supporting other candidates, the incumbent often falls to prevail in the subsequent secondary vote.

South Carolina, somehow still escaping the federal MOVE Act that requires at least 45 days notice of an election for overseas voters, features a two-week runoff. Therefore, the next election, should any runoff result from the June 14 primary vote, would be held June 28. Thus, little time exists in which to change minds.

In mid-March, Rep. Fry’s campaign released the results of their internal Ivory Tusk Consulting firm poll (March 13-15; 615 likely SC-7 Republican primary voters; live interview and text), which gives Fry an eye-opening 39-18 percent lead over Rep. Rice with no one else reaching the 10 percent threshold. Obviously, these are poor numbers for the incumbent.

Even potentially more damaging for the congressman are the answers to the questions involving whether the respondents would ever again vote for Rep. Rice. For the segment who supported Rice in the past, by a crushing margin of 63-21 percent, the majority said they would never vote for him again. Of those who said they have not before cast a vote for Rep. Rice, 11 percent said they will continue to vote against him, but five percent said they would now support him.

With most of the Republican impeachment voters facing political trouble — three of them are not even seeking re-election, though mostly because of redistricting — Rep. Rice certainly joins the most endangered group. The 7th District contest will be the race to watch on June 14.

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