Former S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman appeared to win a narrow victory Tuesday over fellow York County lawmaker Tommy Pope in the 5th District’s GOP runoff for Congress.
Only 200 votes separated the two candidates out of some 35,000 votes cast, but the reported results would make Norman the Republican standard-bearer in a June special election to fill South Carolina's vacant congressional seat.
Norman resigned his seat in the S.C. House to seek the 5th District congressional seat for the second time, and, at least on Tuesday, that gamble seemed to pay off.
However, the closeness of the vote — with Norman winning 17,772 votes to Pope’s 17,572, according to unofficial returns — would trigger an automatic recount to confirm the winner after initial results are certified Friday.
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Norman, a real estate developer, touted a campaign pitch that played up his business background and strict conservative principles in the mold of his predecessor in the district, former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land.
Pope, an attorney and speaker pro tempore of the S.C. House, campaigned as a pragmatic legislator who could get things done.
The contrast created a clear divide between Republican voters in the 5th District, which stretches from the S.C.-N.C. line to include Kershaw and Fairfield counties and parts of Sumter and Newberry in the Midlands.
The race had been as hotly contested as it was close.
Two weeks ago, Pope finished less than a percentage point ahead of Norman in the first round of the GOP primary. Both men had around 30 percent of the vote in a then-seven-candidate field.
A poll by the Trafalgar Group, conducted last week, showed the race remained tight, with the two separated by half a point, a statistical tie. That poll showed each candidate with the support of more than 45 percent of likely GOP voters, with 8 percent undecided.
The race also was contentious even though it featured two men from the same county who served together in the S.C. House and even had carpooled together to legislative sessions in Columbia.
Norman called Pope, a former solicitor best known for prosecuting Union County murderer Susan Smith, a “trial lawyer” who had voted to raise taxes.
Pope attacked Norman’s votes against incentives for Boeing and workers’ compensation for “mental injuries.”
Both men accused the other of being a “career politician.”
Pope came into the race with the support of 4th District U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, like Pope is a former prosecutor. Pope also won the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, Norman had been endorsed by for by Tea Party-leaning Republicans — former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — and 2nd District U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Lexington County. He also received a $100 donation from former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Norman ran unsuccessfully for the 5th District seat as the Republican nominee in 2006, losing to longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. John Spratt. Spratt lost to Mulvaney in 2010.
Mulvaney resigned earlier this year to take a job as budget director in the administration of President Donald Trump.
The GOP nominee will take on Democrat Archie Parnell and several third-party candidates in the June 20 general election.
The GOP nominee will be favored in a district that has voted heavily Republican in recent years. But Democrats are hopeful negative reaction to the Trump Administration could give them a chance at reclaiming the seat.
5th District GOP runoff
359 of 359 precincts reporting
Ralph Norman: 17,772, 50 percent
Tommy Pope: 17,572, 50 percent