Updated May 17, 12:56 p.m. | The Republican primary runoff for South Carolina’s open 5th District seat is heading toward a recount.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, former state Rep. Ralph Norman led state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, 50.3 to 49.7 percent, The Associated Press reported. The margin of just 200 votes is narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount, under state law.
“We did it,” Norman told cheering supporters at his victory speech Tuesday night. Pope, on the other hand, said in a statement that he would “let the automatic recount process play out to ensure every vote is properly counted.”
The winner will face Democrat Archie Parnell in a June special election. Parnell already congratulated Norman on Tuesday night. Democrats would rather face Norman, the more conservative of the two candidates who has said he’d join the House Freedom Caucus.
The conservative Club for Growth also congratulated Norman, whom their political action committee and super PAC supported with more than $860,000 in independent expenditures. Other congratulatory messages came from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who had endorsed Norman, and from U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who also served with Norman in the state House.
The National Republican Congressional Committee said in a statement that while the final result was not yet clear, both Norman and Pope “stand in stark contrast to liberal Democrat Archie Parnell.”
“Parnell’s values are vastly out of step with South Carolina and the NRCC will work relentlessly to ensure voters know that,” NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman said.
Norman, who self-funded by more than $300,000, and Pope were the two top finishers in a seven-candidate GOP field two weeks ago, when only 118 votes separated the two of them.
Since then, the primary runoff has evolved into a more typical tug-of-war between two factions of the Republican Party. While the Club for Growth stood with Norman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed Pope.
Cruz was in Rock Hill on Monday campaigning for Norman, a former member of the state House. He also earned the backing of the fourth-place primary finisher and the most socially conservative candidate, Chad Connelly, who’d been backed by the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus in the earlier primary.
Pope has said he is unlikely to join the Freedom Caucus, if he wins. In the final days of the race, Pope received a contribution from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s leadership PAC. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy also backed Pope.
The open seat to replace former Rep. Mick Mulvaney has attracted less attention than special elections in Georgia and Montana, though now that both parties have their nominees, some national attention may shift toward this race. But the general election date — June 20 — is the same day voters in Georgia’s 6th District head to the polls to decide the more closely watched special election there.
Some Democrats in the state have argued that South Carolina’s 5th District should actually be more competitive for the party, in part because of its African-American population. Last fall’s losing Democratic congressional candidate here earned a higher percentage of the vote than did the Democrats in districts in Kansas and Georgia, which have also seen special elections this year.
President Donald Trump carried the 5th District by 9 points fewer than he carried Kansas’ 4th District in November. But the winning Republican candidate in April’s Kansas special election underperformed Trump by 20 points. If that shift in partisan performance were applied in the South Carolina district, “We would win,” Parnell said last month.
Still, it’s a tough district for Democrats to contest, and one the national party hasn’t been eager to invest in. Mulvaney, who vacated his seat to become director of the Office of Management and Budget, was a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus. But before him, Democratic Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. held the seat for 28 years.