Voters in South Carolina's 5th congressional district will head to the polls May 2 to take part in a special election for Congress. The district is a sprawling one stretching through much of the upstate down to south and east of Columbia.
There are at least 14 people running for the seat.
And while the race hasn't garnered the national attention of other special elections in Kansas and Georgia, the race could have national ramifications.
Tomorrow we'll cover the Democratic frontrunners. Today, WFAE’s Tom Bullock focuses on the Republican candidates. His story includes a conversation with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry about the race.
Marshall: So why start with the Republicans?
Tom: In part because of why this special election is needed. The 5th congressional district was represented by Republican Mick Mulvaney. He resigned the seat to serve as budget director for President Donald Trump.
But the other reason is best described by pollster and political scientist Scott Huffmon of Winthrop University.
“The 5th congressional district is one that leans Republican pretty strongly and it just got a little more republican after the 2010 census.”
2010 was also the year a then up-and-coming Republican state legislator named Mick Mulvaney defeated a Democratic incumbent in the Congressional tea party wave.
And since that time, Huffmon says, the district has continued to skew red.
“Now after the 2010 census the fastest growing region in South Carolina was the annoyingly named Charlotte metro area. Because Charlotte, of course, is in North Carolina, but our legislators still called us the Charlotte Metro Area. And what's happening is wealthy, white, college-educated folks are hopping to South Carolina where taxes are lower. Those folks are natural Republican voters. We also have a lot of retirees coming in.”
Who also tend to vote Republican. Now as you said we'll focus on the Democrats in this race tomorrow (Tuesday), and just how they think they can flip the 5th. And they do have a chance. But for these reasons we're starting with the GOP.
Marshall: And it's a crowded Republican field.
Tom: It is. There are seven GOP candidates looking to fill Mulvaney's seat. I recently went down to Rock Hill for a Republican forum to see some of them first hand.
Two women sit at a table in the lobby of the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College. Armed with small white slips of paper. They are volunteers with a conservative group hosting this forum and they're taking a straw poll.
"Put a 1 by the name of your first choice and a 2 by the name of your second choice,” a volunteer instructs.
On this night, four of the seven Republican candidates will answer the first round of questions. A figth called in with the flu. Another would come in late.
But they didn't miss much of a debate. In fact there was no debate at all to start.
“First question, do you believe that health care is a right and should be provided to all U.S. citizens?” the moderators asks.
The answers came quickly.
“No, I do not.”
And that unanimity continued
“Do you believe in repealing Obamacare?”
“Yes,” all four candidates quickly answered, to the crowd’s amusement.
But there are differences between these candidates.
There's lawyer and former anti-abortion activist Kris Wampler. He represents the libertarian wing of the Republican Party and calls himself a strict constitutionalist. When asked his top legislative priorities, Wampler offered up this:
“Number one, I would get America out of the United Nations and get the United Nations out of America. I don’t think it acts in our interests. I think that it acts against our interests and I think it's basically a quasi-world government.:
Then there's Sheri Few, a self-avowed anti-Common Core crusader. She is very pro-Trump and is running under the slogan "Make America America Again."
Few has also run political ads that targeting two of her better known GOP opponents.
“When Ralph Norman and Tommy Pope voted to take the battle flag down from the confederate memorial in Columbia they started a war on our history. Now they're renaming streets and colleges and destroying monuments to confederate soldiers.”
- Sheri Few political ad
It's an attack she continued at the forum, linking Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman to communist dictators. There's a reason for this tact that goes beyond Few's personal beliefs, says Scott Huffmon.
“Tommy Pope came in kind of as the front runner. He's known in the 5th district for his role in the legislature. He's known in York County because he's kind of a local boy.”
Pope is the Speaker Pro-Tem of the South Carolina House. He's a lawyer and was the lead prosecutor in the 1995 trial of Susan Smith, who drove her car into a South Carolina lake, drowning her two sons. Smith's case gained notoriety when she falsely claimed a black man had stolen the car and was responsible for killing her children.
“If I get to Washington my first objective is security. This comes from my law enforcement background. This comes from my boys being in the military, this comes from my career. We need security in the world, at the borders, and in our communities,” Pope said.
The other state lawmaker in this race is Ralph Norman. He’s a millionaire property developer who likes to associate himself with other well-known, very conservative Republican lawmakers.
“If you like Mick Mulvaney's votes, you will love my votes. If you like Jim DeMint’s votes, you will love my votes. I'm a conservative. I don’t change when I get there and I don’t say one thing in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and do another when I get to Columbia.”
“It's like a bad joke. We can't support another lawyer, legislator or lobbyist, we need the real outsider, Chad Connelly,” Connelly said.
It's an odd tact to take for Connelly. As the former head of the South Carolina Republican Party and former member of the Republican National Committee, he's a well-known political operative.
There's been no public polling for months on this race, no way to know who's leading at this point.
But remember that straw poll at the Republican forum, Ralph Norman won that with 49 percent of the vote.
If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote May 2, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place May 16th.