Now that Mick Mulvaney has stepped aside to become President Donald Trump’s budget director, the race is on in earnest to replace the Indian Land Republican in South Carolina’s 5th District.
The early leaders, experts say, are two York County Republicans who have a track record with the district’s voters: former state Rep. Ralph Norman and S.C. House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope.
“It comes down to name recognition, and, in that, Pope and Norman have the leg up,” said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Rock Hill’s Winthrop University. “The others have got to spend money to get what those two already have.”
So far, six candidates have declared on the GOP side of the race: former state party chairman Chad Connelly; anti-Common Core activist Sheri Few; Camden attorney Tom Mullikin; Norman; Pope; and Indian Land attorney Kris Wampler.
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No Democrat has declared for the race.
Filing for the race opens March 3 and closes March 13.
Party primaries will be on May 2. If necessary, a runoff will be held two weeks later, on May 16. The general election will be on June 20.
Norman and Pope are seen as having an advantage partly because of the turnout is expected to be low in the special election.
The people who turn out will be the most partisan voters.”
Scott Buchanan, political science professor at The Citadel
“Turnout in special elections is really anemic,” said Scott Buchanan, a political sciencist at The Citadel. “The people who turn out will be the most partisan voters.”
A recent poll found Pope, who gained his high name recognition as the prosecutor in the Susan Smith child-murder case, has the most support in the district.
But Buchanan thinks the makeup of the primary electorate — largely GOP activists — could give Connelly a boost. Connelly has never held elected office but has been a statewide GOP official.
“It gives him more name recognition because he was the party chair,” Buchanan said. “Since the electorate is more partisan, he has a little better chance than normal.”
The other candidates, Buchanan suggests, will have to “throw mud at the wall and see what sticks.”
The lesser-known candidates also are at a disadvantage because the 11-county district stretches across three TV markets, making it difficult for a candidate to reach a wide audience, Huffmon added.
“They need to get in front of the general public, at party events, as much as they can,” he said. “The question is: Are there enough for them to do that?”
While Republicans think about how to stand out, Democrats are hoping to find a candidate to run. Democrat Fran Person, a former USC football player and aide to Vice President Joe Biden, lost by 20 points to Mulvaney in November.
Party officials say several candidates are weighing their options, adding they expect to have a candidate soon.
“We will have a strong Democratic nominee who will fight for the people of the 5th District,” said Jaime Harrison, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party. “Trump is trying to turn people against one another so he can enrich himself and his rich cronies. Democrats in the 5th District and everywhere will bring people together to demand that our elected officials look out for us all.”
However, in a low-turnout special election, the demographics of the increasingly red district are unlikely to favor a Democrat.
“No one want to get as roundly beaten as a well-financed candidate like Person got beat,” Huffmon said.
Chad Connelly. Connelly, a Newberry resident, was head of the state GOP from 2011 to 2013, leaving to become national director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee. He served in the U.S. Army and the S.C. National Guard, and was a senior manager for a national engineering firm before launching his career as a small business consultant.
Sheri Few. Few, a Lugoff resident, is a founder of the anti-Common Core group S.C. Parents Involved in Education, which lobbied for South Carolina to abandon the national education standards. She ran for state education superintendent in 2014 primary, winning the 5th District in a nine-way GOP primary before losing the runoff.
Tom Mullikin. A former U.S. Army lawyer, Mullikin is commander of the all-volunteer S.C. State Guard. The Camden-based lawyer’s firm specialties include advising the manufacturers and energy industries on environmental issues. He vows to make term limits an issue.
Ralph Norman. A prominent York County real estate developer, Norman first was elected to the S.C. House in 2004, then left in 2006 to launch an unsuccessful bid to unseat then-U.S. Rep. John Spratt in the 5th District. Norman was elected again to the House in 2008 but resigned his seat last week to run for Congress.
Tommy Pope. The former 16th Circuit solicitor is best known for winning a conviction in the infamous Susan Smith child-murder case in 1995. Pope now practices law privately in Rock Hill. He was elected to the House in 2010 and has been speaker pro tempore since 2014.
Kris Wampler. A 33-year-old family law attorney, Wampler is a North Carolina-licensed attorney with an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and a law degree from Wake Forest. While his law practice is in Charlotte, he has lived in Indian Land since 2010.