Democrats and Republicans have settled on who will represent them in South Carolina’s 5th District special election for Congress, but those candidates won’t be the only choices on the ballot.
There are three other candidates running to replace former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney in the June 20 special election besides the GOP’s Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell. And they’re primarily in the race so voters have more options than Red Team and Blue Team.
“I wanted to let people know there are other choices out there,” said Victor Kocher, the Libertarian Party candidate in the race, who says the reality that he and other third-party candidates won’t win “is not a reason not to try.”
Josh Thornton, running for the American Party, said he was irked by seeing “a lot of unopposed races” on the ballot. He decided a short special election would be his best chance to run a statement-making campaign on the centrist party’s ticket.
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“I was more frustrated with how Republicans and Democrats don’t want to work with each other,” Thornton said. “I can represent the people, instead of just representing a party.”
Green Party candidate David Kulma was inspired to run by the success of the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But unlike Sanders – an independent whose success hinged on seeking the Blue Team’s nomination – Kulma is trying his luck running on a third-party ticket.
“The Green Party believes what I believe,” said the 32-year-old Winthrop University music professor. “They value peace, democracy from the bottom up, environmental justice, social justice. The Democrats have some of that, but it’s a constant struggle with more corporate Democrats.”
Kulma says that no matter which major-party candidate – both wealthy men who raised a lot of money – wins the congressional seat, “they will care more about Raytheon (a missile defense company) than the people after the election.”
Kocher, who previously ran for the U.S. Senate and a State House seat under the Libertarian label, said he’s interested in eliminating the national debt and balancing the federal budget. The 54-year-old retired pawn shop owner lives just outside the 5th District in Richland County.
“When we had a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, I heard a lot of complaining about the debt being so high ... But now that we have a Republican president and Congress, we don’t care any more.”
A 41-year-old Rock Hill resident who teaches at Charlotte’s Trinity Episcopal School, Thornton is focused on education issues, getting money out of politics and expanding access to health care.
“Norman’s going to support whatever (Donald) Trump wants to do, while Parnell is going to resist everything Trump wants to do,” Thornton said. “I’ll only support him on things that help the district, and oppose him when it’s detrimental.”
The candidates know it’s a long shot that South Carolina’s next congressman won’t have an “R” or “D” next to his name.
Consider the money they’ve raised to get their names out there: Norman has raised $652,041 according to his latest election filing, while Parnell has hauled in $243,032.
Thornton put just $1,673 in his campaign account, while Kocher and Kulma haven’t reported any money raised for their campaigns.
The three hope a low-turnout special election could boost their chances.
“I’m not terribly optimistic,” Thornton said, “but if it’s going to happen, it will happen now.”
Tax law and politics are unlikely to produce many teen heartthrobs, but maybe Parnell can get there.
The Democratic candidate in the 5th District tweeted a link to an article in Teen Vogue on upcoming special elections that featured the former Goldman Sachs financial adviser’s photo.
“I've seen my name in the Journal of Taxation and the Yale Law Journal before,” the Sumter native said. “This is my first time in Teen Vogue.”
Parnell joins former Gov. Nikki Haley in the S.C. Vogue Club. Haley appeared in Vogue in 2012, early in her first term as governor.
One story won’t push Parnell into Justin Trudeau territory, but it’s a start.