5 Things You Need To Know About The Shockingly Competitive South Carolina 5th District Race
The political world’s focus on Tuesday was the special congressional election in Georgia, but there was another congressional special election that day in South Carolina’s 5th district to replace Mick Mulvaney, who is now President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director. The Republican candidate, Ralph Norman, defeated his Democratic opponent, Archie Parnell, but the race ended up being much closer than expected.
Here are five things you need to know about Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina.
1. Norman only won by approximately 3 points. The final totals had Norman at 51.1% and Parnell at 47.9%. Toward the end of May, Parnell’s internal polling had him down by 10 points against Norman, so in nearly a month’s time Parnell was able to close the gap, but not by enough.
2. Trump overwhelmingly won the district in November. But the two prior Republican presidential candidates didn’t do as well in the district, as Sean Trende explains in RealClearPolitics:
Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell by a surprisingly small margin of 3.4 points. This district had gone heavily for Trump, who carried it by 19 points, but it had gone for Mitt Romney and John McCain by narrower margins.
Moreover, its partisanship wasn’t changed much in the 2010 redistricting. At its core, it was still the same district that elected a Republican for the first time since Reconstruction in 2010, and where Democrat John Spratt had been considered unassailable for years prior. But once again, Democrats came up just short in a race that largely flew under the radar.
Because of this, Trende suggests that the path to regaining the House of Representatives in 2018 “runs through traditionally Democratic, blue-collar areas that swung hard toward Trump.”
3. There wasn’t a lot of spending in the district and very few people were paying attention to it. According to Roll Call:
“Who’s Archie Parnell?” responded Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s leadership team, on Thursday when asked how she thought Parnell was doing in his special election.
Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, a former chairwoman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program and a former vice chairwoman of recruitment, said she wasn’t following the race closely either.
That was a common refrain.
“I honestly have not been tracking it as closely,” Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee said last week when asked for his thoughts on South Carolina. A member of the DCCC leadership team, Kildee was fresh off the plane from Georgia, where he’d campaigned with Ossoff.
Additionally, there was $2 million spent in the South Carolina election, a drop in the bucket compared to the $50 million spent in the Georgia special election. Clearly, this race deserved a lot more attention than it received.
4. Turnout was low, which would explain why it was a close election.. National Review‘s Jim Geraghty noted in his Morning Jolt newsletter that in 2014, there were over 175,000 votes even though it was an election in which Mulvaney was assured victory. On Tuesday, voter turnout was only 90,000, prompting Geraghty to suggest that “more attention would have likely brought out more unmotivated Republicans and helped Norman cushion his lead.”
The Democrat base, of course, is energized against Trump, and Parnell seemed to tap into that with his campaigning with national Democrats like former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and a Joe Biden robocall. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also wielded ads aimed at turning out black voters.
5. Norman is a solid conservative. At the end of the day, conservatives will still get a solid voice in the House. As Nick Kammer noted in The Resurgent, Norman’s record in the state legislature suggests that he is “a strong conservative” who has “promised to join the Freedom Caucus.” A win is a win, even if the race was closer than expected.