Politics & Government

GOP ex-colleagues sharpen attacks in 5th District runoff


York County Republican meet-ups might be a little more tense these days.

Tuesday’s GOP primary in the race for the 5th District’s congressional seat produced a near tie between Ralph Norman and Tommy Pope – recent legislative colleagues who once car pooled on trips down Interstate 77 from their York County districts to the S.C. House.

Now, Pope and Norman, who recently resigned his State House seat to run for Congress, are drawing sharp contrasts between their records in the Legislature in hopes of winning the May 16 runoff. The winner advances as the Republican nominee in next month’s special election against Democrat Archie Parnell of Sumter for the congressional seat.

Pope says he has the more substantive record as a legislator – evidence he has the skills to get things done in Washington.

“I’ve worked to accomplish things, and Ralph has worked to build his record to run for office,” said Pope, a member of the GOP’s House leadership who worked to pass the state’s first update to laws governing the behavior of public officials in a quarter century. “I want to do this from the high ground, but I want to focus on my ability to do something.”

But Norman says Pope isn’t conservative enough to represent Republican voters looking to safeguard taxpayer money and roll back government, not create more of it.

“He had a good career as a prosecutor, but he does not have a conservative voting record,” Norman said, pointing to Pope’s support for state funding for items like the S.C. Artisans Center in Walterboro and a new football stadium for Coastal Carolina University. “He says he wants to fund security, but we can’t if we’re broke.”

On the attack

Pope and Norman have taken shots at each other that go beyond their legislative records.

A Rock Hill real estate developer who loaned his own campaign $300,000, Norman has sought to draw a contrast with Pope’s legal career with the Elrod Pope law firm.

“He’s running as a trial lawyer. He calls himself a prosecutor and a cop (in campaign ads), but he’s been neither for 14 years,” Norman said. “He sues businesses. I create business.”

Pope rejects that characterization.

“I built my own small business after leaving the prosecutor’s office with signs and a phone,” he said, while adding a shot of his own.

“If you check the records at the York County courthouse, you’ll find Ralph has made liberal use of attorneys when it’s been beneficial for him.”

Pope also tried to draw a clear line between himself and Norman after Tuesday’s primary. A Pope news release, sent out Wednesday, said Norman “has never gotten much done in Columbia.”

“He casts countless strange votes, voting against jobs, farmers, the Port of Charleston, and he even voted against investigating Planned Parenthood’s business practices,” Pope said.

The Planned Parenthood charge produced the strongest reaction from the Norman camp.

“We had to laugh when we saw that, like Ralph Norman supports selling baby parts,” Norman said.

Norman said the charge stems from another lawmaker’s attempt to add the women’s health-care and abortion provider to an oversight committee’s already full agenda of investigations, which Norman dismissed as a “publicity stunt.” He also touted his support from pro-life activists.

“It’s laughable, and he knows it,” Norman said of Pope’s attack. “I’ll be happy to compare my record to his.”

Contrast and compare

Norman says his priority in Congress would be the same as it was in the S.C. House: eliminate unnecessary government regulations and wasteful spending.

“If you want a bunch of laws passed, that’s not going to be me,” he said.

But Pope stresses that legislative skill and accomplishment are important to consider now that Republicans control Congress and the White House, giving the party a chance to accomplish something on issues like tax reform, military spending and federal overreach.

“We have a small window of time to do it, that we may not have two or four years from now,” Pope said. “I want to roll up my sleeves and get some work done, not vote ‘no’ on everything.”

Despite the charges flying back and forth, the two former colleagues say the campaign rhetoric shouldn’t be taken personally.

“He’s a good person,” Norman said of his opponent. “I like him. He likes me, I assume. We just have two different records.”

Pope reciprocates that feeling, to a degree.

“I consider him a friend,” Pope said. “But his conduct in this campaign has been disappointing.”