In South Carolina, a battle for the soul of the GOP is brewing
South Carolina statehouse

In South Carolina, a battle for the soul of the GOP is brewing

Posted May 15, 2017 07:47 AM by Rob Eno South Carolina statehouse
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On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, the latest battle for the direction of the Republican Party takes place. This will be the GOP runoff primary to fill Mick Mulvaney’s seat in Congress in the Fifth Congressional District of South Carolina. The race features conservative Ralph Norman — who topped the first primary ballot — and Tommy Pope, the establishment candidate. The establishment is pouring significant money into the race. Here’s where the contest stands.

On May 2, 2017, seven Republican candidates faced off in the Republican primary. In South Carolina, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, there is a runoff primary two weeks later. According to Ballotpedia, Norman finished first with 30.5 percent, 11,866 votes, and Pope finished second with 30.2 percent, 11,754 votes. The primary was hard-fought battle, and both conservative and establishment Republican groups spent significant sums on the race.

Tommy Pope, the current speaker pro tempore of the South Carolina House of Representatives, has amassed a cadre of establishment endorsements. According to The State, these include S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas and the powerful agriculture commissioner, Hugh Weathers. Pope is the second-ranking official in the S.C. House. Also endorsing Pope is Trey Gowdy, who publicly endorsed Pope via an advertisement paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Pope, like Gowdy, was once a “circuit solicitor” — equivalent to a district attorney — in South Carolina. During the early 2000s, they served in their positions at the same time, in neighboring circuits. Gowdy has a personal history with Pope.

Pope’s endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce is seen as a negative by many conservatives. The chamber routinely supports establishment candidates and attacks constitutional conservatives. This point was made by Erick Erickson, writing in The Resurgent.

Were you happy with the House’s American Health Care Act? I suspect not. But I suspect you were pleased, at least, that the House Freedom Caucus moved the legislation to the right. Well, to punish the House Freedom Caucus for improving the legislation, the Chamber of Capitulation …errrr… Commerce is seeking to defeat a conservative in South Carolina named Ralph Norman.

Norman has the support of Jim DeMint, Joe “You Lie” Wilson, and Nikki Haley. But the Chamber and Republican leaders in Washington are pouring money into South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District race to destroy him.

Ralph Norman is running against a squishy, big spending trial lawyer named Tommy Pope, who has pledged to never deal with the House Freedom Caucus. Pope is angry that the House Freedom Caucus forced improvements to the American Health Care Act. The Chamber of Commerce and Republican leaders are using Pope in hopes of stopping Ralph Norman.

As Erickson writes, conservatives are rallying around Norman, who said he would most likely join the House Freedom Caucus if elected to serve. FEC records show that Norman had more cash on hand immediately before the original primary race and has loaned his campaign more money than any other candidate raised.

Norman was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 2005. In February, he resigned his seat in the House to run for the vacant seat in the U.S. House. He said at the time that he resigned his seat so that a special election to fill it would be held at the same time as the congressional special election, to “save the taxpayers $25,000 to $55,000.”

Norman has been endorsed by the Conservative Club for Growth, which has decided to spend money on the race. The club’s South Carolina chapter has consistently given Norman “A” ratings and has given Pope an “F.” Norman was named as one of only three House “Taxpayer Heroes” by the organization.

The Club for Growth began airing its first advertisements against Pope last week.

The club also hit Pope for supporting parts of Obamacare expansion in South Carolina while in the House, while invoking former governor Nikki Haley’s opposition to what Pope supported.

The election on Tuesday is shaping up to be close. Norman and Pope finished the first primary neck and neck, with other conservative and establishment candidates splitting the rest of the vote.

On Tuesday, it will be seen if the anti-establishment wave that carried Donald Trump to victory in South Carolina will extend to the race to replace his budget director in the House of Representatives.

Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC. If you see something you’d like him to cover, tweet him @robeno.