The early leader in a probable special election for South Carolina’s 5th District congressional seat is a candidate who isn’t even in the race, a poll says.
State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, has a lead over three potential challengers for the seat now held by Mick Mulvaney, slated to join the Trump Administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to the poll.
Officially, U.S. Rep. Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, hasn’t stepped down from Congress yet. But there already is jockeying to see who will replace him.
A poll, released Friday by the Kansas City-based Remington Research Group, asked likely Republican primary voters in the 5th District for their opinion of four potential GOP candidates in the Republican district.
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Only one, state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, officially has declared for any special election, expected after Mulvaney is confirmed by the Senate.
Remington found S.C. House Speaker Pro Tempore Pope had the tentative support of 25 percent of likely GOP primary voters in the district. Norman had 9 percent support, tied with former SC GOP chairman Chad Connelly.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, had the support of 6 percent of voters. Simrill, the S.C. House majority leader, has said he doesn’t plan to run.
Pope does not seem inclined to run for Congress.
"I'm discussing it further with my family, although I continue to believe that here in South Carolina is where I can best serve," he said Friday.
Pope previously had said he planned to run for governor in 2018. However, those plans could be upset if Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster becomes governor – when Gov. Nikki Haley becomes U.S. ambassador to the United Nations – and runs for a full term as an incumbent.
Remington director Titus Bond said his firm polled the race because it is one of the few upcoming 2017 special elections that will require a primary. The firm picked four potential Republican candidates based on media reports on the district.
Pope would begin the race with a name-recognition advantage. He was the lead prosecutor in the infamous Susan Smith child murder case in 1995.
But most likely GOP voters are far from making up their minds, according to Remington.
Fifty-two percent said they were undecided in the race. Fifty-six percent said they have no opinion of Pope, and 70 percent have no opinion of Norman.
“Half of likely Republican voters are undecided, which gives an opening to another candidate,” Bond said. “But a double-digit lead (for Pope) at this point is significant.”
The poll was conducted Jan. 7-8 using a mix of 80 percent automated and 20 percent live-to-cell phone calls. It reached 778 likely Republican primary voters, Bond said.
No date has been set for the special election.