It’s been four months since Republican Mick Mulvaney resigned from his seat in Congress to become White House budget director. On Tuesday, voters in South Carolina’s 5th District will choose their next representative.
Four candidates remain out of more than a dozen who filed to run for the seat. Republican Ralph Norman, a real estate developer from Rock Hill who resigned his seat in the S.C. State House to run, won by 200 votes in a contentious runoff with House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope. Archie Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs financial adviser from Sumter, beat two challengers to win the Democratic nomination.
Norman has the advantage, leading Parnell by between 10 and 17 points in two polls.
The Republican has pushed himself as a consistent conservative in a district Mulvaney won four times by double digits, and where Donald Trump won by 18 percentage points during November’s presidential election.
Tuesday’s election results will show whether Trump’s brand of Republicanism is souring in the pro-Trump district.
Parnell has campaigned as a moderate Democrat and an expert on taxes who can take a pragmatic approach to problem-solving – with a cheeky ad that compared the race to the TV series House of Cards.
Both candidates have pumped a lot of money into the race, which has drawn interest from PACs and GOP and Democratic congressional committees.
Norman has raised around $1.3 million to spend on the 5th District race, but only had $100,000 left entering the final week of the campaign, according to federal election filings. Parnell still had $246,000 left to spend out of $763,327 raised overall.
Voters in the 5th District have two very different candidates to choose from. Norman and Parnell would take opposing positions on the top items on the GOP-led Congress’ agenda, most notably plans to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Here’s a look at what 5th District voters are saying about their choice on Tuesday:
From: Rock Hill
Occupation: Financial services
“My whole life I’ve been a fiscal conservative. So that’s what I look out for whether it’s a local, state or national election. Both candidates are 180-degree opposite. Ralph Norman’s a true fiscal conservative, and that’s why I support him. He’ll get a better handle on federal spending, which is in the trillions of dollars. South Carolina has a law that requires a balanced budget. We need to require the federal government to do that. ... What’s so challenging here is knowing there’s even an election going on. We’re in a border area so our TV news comes from Charlotte, so what we hear is very different from Columbia-Lexington or Greenville-Spartanburg (markets). I’ve heard people say ‘we have to vote again?’ after the primary and the runoff last month.”
From: Rock Hill
Occupation: Hospice care volunteer manager
“I’m voting for Archie Parnell. I’ve helped out with the campaign, and Archie has a lot to offer in Congress. He can bring the U.S. in a different direction, a more positive direction. To stand by what the country was founded on, being for the people and not just one particular group. I want him to look out for the future of health care. South Carolina did not take the Medicaid expansion, and I’ve seen in my job what happens to people without adequate health care.”
From: Lake Wylie
Occupation: Retired educator
“I’m voting for Norman. Ralph Norman is a true conservative, and he holds to his values. He’s going to vote for what’s right. He’s not going to change just to get along.”
Occupation: Retired technology executive
“I’m absolutely an Archie supporter, for a variety of reasons. He’s a guy with integrity. If somebody tries to push him to be more left-leaning than he’s comfortable with, he tells them ‘no.’ And then if somebody tries to push him to be more right-wing than he wants, he tells them ‘no’ just as well. He’ll try to get things done as much as he can with the gridlock in the current Congress. But I want him to push back on some of the crazier things coming out of the House or in executive orders. … He’ll bring some common sense there. There are grant requests to the Education Department that have been rejected because they’re submitted in the wrong font size.”
“I’m voting for Ralph Norman. I helped out on his campaign when he ran for State House, when I was just out of high school, so I know he’s going to be a good representative. Archie Parnell can claim to be from here, but he really hasn’t been here in several decades. Ralph will be very pro-small business. I have one, and he grew one. I want someone who will be very small business-minded on taxes and regulations. And I think he’ll fall in line with Trump, and generally he’ll be a strong ally for the president.”
From: Tega Cay
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, former York Technical College administrator
“I’m definitely voting for Parnell. I almost always vote Democratic. I went to his announcement and read his bio and thought ‘a moderate Democrat? It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.’ I think that’s our best chance to turn the district blue. With some of the on-the-fence voters who went Republican in 2016, and are not excited about how things are going, I saw this as an opportunity … I’m voting for him because of his character. He’s humble, he’s smart, (and) he’s got the background to make this happen.”