COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican voters in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District runoff election face a stark contrast in deciding which candidate they should choose to try and hang on to the seat given up when Mick Mulvaney resigned earlier this year to become White House Budget director.
Tommy Pope was the top vote-getter in the party primary May 2. Ralph Norman trailed him by less than 1 percent in the first round. But despite similarities between the two, some GOP voters say if their candidate doesn’t win Tuesday, they may not back the winner, even against a Democrat, in the general election on June 20.
Pope is backed by business groups with mainstream appeal, while Norman has gathered support from more hard-right groups. Norman had Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the district on Monday campaigning for him.
The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Archie Parnell in the June 20 general election. Parnell is a former staff attorney for the House Ways & Means Committee and the Department of Justice. He has attracted enough support to try and make the race competitive by taking advantage of divisions in the GOP and using the same playbook seen in congressional races in Kansas and Georgia.
South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District spans 11 mostly rural counties, but also includes the growing suburbs south of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Republicans dominate after state GOP leaders changed the district boundaries to draw it more safely under their party’s control, but it had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years until Mulvaney’s victory in 2010.
Both Pope and Norman voiced support for some of President Donald Trump’s policies in TV ads and campaign planks, including a border wall with Mexico and efforts to loosen regulations on businesses. Both also pledged to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The main difference is their backers. Pope, an attorney from York and the No. 2 in South Carolina’s House, has the support of several high-profile state Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens of law enforcement leaders, including fellow former prosecutor U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Norman, a real estate developer, former state House member and major backer of former Gov. Nikki Haley, counts on support from the party’s right flank, including the Club For Growth’s political arm; Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator from South Carolina and a former director of the Heritage Foundation; and Cruz.
Any hint of working with centrists is precisely what one Norman supporter doesn’t want in Congress.
“You can work with the far left, you can work with the far right, but you can’t work with the middle because you don’t know how they are going to vote,” voter Margarett Blackwell told The Associated Press Monday, quoting advice she said she got from Mulvaney himself.
Mike Barrow, a 71-year-old Army veteran, said he supports Pope because Norman’s endorsements from Washington personalities like Cruz and DeMint go against his desire to be represented by outsiders.