In South Carolina’s much-watched 5th District special congressional race, Republicans were headed for a runoff Tuesday to choose a successor to U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, while Democrats selected their nominee.
With more than 39,000 Republican votes counted, state Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, narrowly endged out his former S.C. State House colleague Ralph Norman, also of York County. Both candidates finished with around 30 percent of the vote, and were headed to a runoff to decide the GOP nominee.
Tom Mullikin, a Camden businessman and commander of the S.C. State Guard, finished in third place with 20 percent of the vote, and former state GOP chairman Chad Connelly of Newberry County landed in fourth with 14 percent.
Meanwhile, Democrats were poised to nominate Archie Parnell, who defeated his two challengers by a wide margin Tuesday.
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The top two candidates in the Republican race will advance to a May 16 runoff. The Republican and Democratic nominees will face each other in the general election June 20.
The seat came open when Mulvaney, the Indian Land Republican who has represented the district since 2011, was named director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget by President Donald Trump.
Last November, Mulvaney – a prominent fiscal conservative and member of the often rebellious House Freedom Caucus – was elected to a fourth term by nearly 20 percentage points over Democratic challenger Fran Person.
Despite Mulvaney’s strong win last year, Democrats are eyeing the 5th District — alongside other special elections — as a potential congressional pick-up. Democrats have seen a spike in party activism since Republican Trump’s upset victory in November.
Past 5th District races have been more competitive than special elections in congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia, where Democrats also had stronger than average performances. S.C. Democrats hope that enthusiasm carries over into the June general election.
However, GOP voters outnumbered Democrats 2-1 Tuesday. Overall turnout for both primaries was 12 percent, according to the S.C. Election Commission.
On the Republican side, Pope was considered an early favorite. A state representative from York County since 2010, Pope is speaker pro tempore of the S.C. House, that body’s No. 2-ranking post. Pope also is well-known as the prosecutor in the 1995 child murder trial of Susan Smith.
Sheri Few, the Lugoff education activist who ran a controversial ad criticizing the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House, was trailing the other GOP candidates badly, in the low-single-digit levels of support.
On the Democratic side, Parnell is a Sumter native and former senior adviser to the international financial firm Goldman Sachs. He faced a challenge from Alexis Frank, a 26-year-old Army veteran and current student from Rock Hill.
Frank launched an unlikely challenge to Parnell, who collected several high-profile endorsements in the race. But despite winning almost 22 percent of the vote in her first bid for public office, she finished far behind Parnell’s 71 percent. Les Murphy, a Marine and veterans’ activist, had 7 percent of the vote and ended election night in third place.
5th District race
Tommy Pope: 30.3 percent
Ralph Norman: 30 percent
Tom Mullikin: 20 percent
Chad Connelly: 14 percent
Sheri Few: 5 percent
Kris Wampler: 1 percent
Ray Craig: 0 percent
Archie Parnell: 71 percent
Alexis Frank: 22 percent
Les Murphy: 7 percent