Campaigns

SC Republican tries to turn tables on oppo research — and raise money, too

Republican Nancy Mace is trying to unseat freshman Democrat Joe Cunningham

An email blast from Republican candidate Nancy Mace tried to turn the tables on Democratic opposition researchers and raise money. (Email Screenshot/CQ Roll Call)

It’s not every day a fundraising email contains more than hyperbolic talking points.

But South Carolina state Rep. Nancy Mace, who’s vying for the Republican nomination in one of the GOP’s top pick-up opportunities for Congress next year, got a little more personal this week, offering in an email to supporters to release her student records from The Citadel.

“I got FOIA’ed,” read the subject line.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee submitted a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this month for those records, but the Citadel determined they were protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and notified Mace of the request.

So Mace, the first woman to graduate from the military college, decided to use the episode to make a political point and released the records herself, while also taking the opportunity to raise money and build her own email list.

“What the Democrats are trying to do to keep this seat is why people hate politics. It’s time to teach Joe Cunningham, Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC a lesson about attacking Republican women,” Mace wrote in the Tuesday night email.

Opposition research

Conducting opposition research is a routine part of campaigns in both parties. At the same time, candidates often complain about “oppo” to make the case that they’re rising above politics as usual. 

“If you’re going to go digging for dirt when I was 18, when I had one of the toughest challenges in my life personally, then have at it,” Mace, 41, told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday. “It says more about you and your tactics than it does about me.”

National Democrats are working to defend freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham, who flipped a Charleston-area seat last fall. He was No. 3 on CQ Roll Call’s ranking of the most vulnerable House members. His race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

The DCCC on Wednesday accused Mace of being a “career politician” who’s pushed “extreme ideas.”

“Now she’s trying to fundraise off the fact that folks in the Lowcountry will learn she’s only interested in adding to the partisanship in Washington instead of fighting for their interests,” spokesman Avery Jaffe said in a statement.

Mace said her campaign is not conducting opposition research on Cunningham. But it’s not uncommon for that dirty work to be done by outside groups that use the information for attacks, while the candidates those groups support focus on telling positive stories about themselves.

Last cycle, for example, the super PAC tied to House GOP leadership attacked Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia using records that the GOP opposition research firm America Rising obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Those records included a confidential national security form known as Standard Form 86 (SF-86), which the Postal Service had improperly released to them.

Republicans have already taken personal shots at Cunningham. The National Republican Congressional Committee has mocked the congressman and his wife, for example, for seeking marriage counseling.

But Mace drew a distinction there since Cunningham’s wife was the one who posted a video on Instagram about how their health care didn’t cover the counseling sessions. 

“If your spouse does that, that opens themselves up to criticism, and I think there’s an argument that’s fair,” Mace said. 

Pressed on whether she’d disavow ads from GOP outside groups that use opposition research or make personal attacks, Mace said she has a record of standing up to her own party.

Mace was a field and coalitions director during the 2016 campaign for President Donald Trump, whose request to Ukraine to investigate a political rival is now the subject of House impeachment proceedings. Trump carried South Carolina’s 1st District by 11 points.

Asked about Trump’s comments this summer that he’d take opposition research from a foreign government, Mace said she hadn’t seen that statement. 

“I personally would never accept information from a foreign agent or foreign country,” Mace said.

 A political message

Mace’s email to supporters was written in the style of most fundraising emails, with erratic bolding, underlining and italics to try to drive attention to important points.

But it was unusually lengthy. She doesn’t reveal that she requested her own records until the 17th paragraph.

Recipients of the email who click on the link to access her records had to first provide the campaign with their name and email address.

“If you want to see my my private life, I want your email for it,” Mace said when asked about that requirement.

The records, which are mostly transcripts and press releases about her academic achievement, don’t reveal much that could be used against her. She earned mostly straight A’s — her lowest grade was a C in physics — and she was recommended for a commission despite being prescribed Ritalin for attention deficit disorder, which the letter said would normally make her ineligible. 

Revealing that medical information, Mace said, was important to make her point.

“It’s sort of ridiculous — the lengths that political operatives will go to hurt someone who’s running for public office,” Mace said. “And it’s important to me to expose some of that, because it’s really ugly.”

She’s submitted FOIA requests for all of her emails as a state legislator, paper copies of which she was planning to take to her local newspaper, The Charleston Post and Courier, this week.

Mace is no stranger to politics. She lost a Senate primary against Lindsey Graham in 2014 and ran a consulting firm with clients such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who’s now Trump’s acting chief of staff.

A single mother to two children, Mace made national headlines earlier this year when she shared her own story of rape on the state House floor to make the case for a rape and incest exception in an anti-abortion bill.

Mace will face a June primary. She’s been endorsed by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the former NRCC recruitment chairwoman who’s been trying to help GOP women through primaries. The anti-tax Club for Growth, which was on the opposite side of GOP women’s groups in a high-profile primary earlier this year, has also backed Mace, who had raised $518,000 by the end of September.

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