Live primary election updates: South Carolina, Maine News and more
CHARLESTON, SC — At a campaign event the weekend before the South Carolina primary election, Tom Rice, a conservative congressman now on the wrong side of former President Donald J. Trump, made a confession .
“I have made my next election a little more difficult than the previous ones,” he said on Friday, imploring his supporters – a group he called “reasonable and rational people” and “good and solid Republicans. traditional” – to support him at the polls on Tuesday.
Two days before and about 100 miles south, Rep. Nancy Mace, another Republican from Palmetto State who drew the former president’s ire, acknowledged her position by knocking on doors on a sweltering morning.
“I accept everything. I take responsibility. I’m not backing down,’ she said, confident that voters in her Lowcountry district would be sympathetic. “They know that ‘hey, even if I disagree with her, at least she’s going to tell me where she is,'” she added.
Ms. Mace and Mr. Rice are the former president’s two targets for revenge on Tuesday. After a pro-Trump crowd stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, they were among those who blamed the president for the attack. Ms Mace, just days into her first term, said Mr Trump’s false rhetoric that the presidential election had been ‘stolen’ had fueled the riot and threatened her life. Mr. Rice, whose district borders Ms. Mace’s to the north, immediately condemned Mr. Trump and joined nine other Republicans (but not Ms. Mace) in later voting for his impeachment.
Today, in the face of major challenges championed by the former president, the two have taken starkly different approaches to political survival. Ms Mace withdrew her criticism of Mr Trump, seeking instead to discuss his conservative electoral record and libertarian streak in policy discussions. Instead, Mr. Rice dug in, defending his impeachment vote and further excoriating Mr. Trump in the process.
If they fend off their main challengers on Tuesday, Ms. Mace and Mr. Rice will join a growing list of incumbents who endured the wrath of the Trump wing of the GOP without ending their political careers. Yet their contradictory strategies — a reflection of both their political instincts and the differing politics of their districts — will offer insight into how far a candidate can go in challenging Mr. Trump.
In the eyes of her supporters, Ms Mace’s past comments are less concrete than an impeachment vote. She has sought to improve her relationship with pro-Trump parties in the GOP, spending nearly every day of the past few weeks on the campaign trail reminding voters of her Republican good faith, not her unfiltered criticism of Mr. Trump.
“Everyone knows I was unhappy that day,” she said of Jan. 6. “The whole world knows it. All my constituents know it.
His district, which stretches from the left corners of Charleston to the conservative country clubs of Hilton Head, has an electorate that includes far-right Republicans and liberal Democrats. Ms. Mace ran not just as a conservative candidate, but also as one who could defend the politically diverse district against a Democratic rival in November.
“It is and always will be a swing neighborhood,” she said. “I’m a conservative, but I also understand that I don’t just represent conservatives.”
This is not, however, a positive message for all in the Lowcountry.
Ted Huffman, owner of Bluffton BBQ, a restaurant nestled in the heart of touristy downtown Bluffton, said he was backing Katie Arrington, the former Trump-backed state representative who took on Ms Mace. What mattered against Ms. Mace was not her feud with Mr. Trump, but her relative absence from the restaurant portion of the district, Mr. Huffman said.
“Katie Arrington, she’s been here,” Mr Huffman said, recalling the few times Mrs Arrington visited Bluffton BBQ. “I’ve never seen Nancy Mace.”
At an event in Summerville with former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Ms. Mace gave a stump speech that ran through a list of right-wing talking points: high inflation driven by the president’s economic agenda Biden, an influx of immigrants to the southern border, support for military veterans. She did not mention Mr. Trump.
Ms Mace is predicting a decisive primary victory against Ms Arrington, who has placed her endorsement of Trump at the center of her campaign message. A win over that, Ms Mace said, would prove “the weakness of any endorsement”.
“I generally don’t give too much weight to endorsements because they don’t matter,” she said. “He really is the candidate. He’s the person people vote for, that’s what matters.
Speaking from her porch in Moncks Corner, SC, Deidre Stechmeyer, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom, said she wasn’t following Ms. Mace’s run closely. But when asked about the MP’s comments condemning the January 6 riot, she changed.
“That’s something I agree with her on,” she said, adding that she supports Ms. Mace’s decision to certify the Electoral College vote — a move some GOP members have opposed. characterized as the definitive betrayal of Mr. Trump. “There were so many conflicts and uncertainties. I feel like he should have been certified.
Mr. Rice’s impeachment vote, on the other hand, presents a more identifiable reversal.
That’s part of the reason Ms Mace has a comfortable lead in her race, according to the latest pollswhile Mr. Rice faces many more primary challengers and is most likely heading for a runoff with a Trump-endorsed state representative, Russell Fry, after Tuesday.
Mr. Fry’s campaign centered Mr. Rice’s impeachment vote in his message, turning the vote into a referendum on Mr. Rice’s five terms in Congress.
“It’s more than Donald Trump. This is about an incumbent congressman losing the trust of a very conservative district,” said Matt Moore, former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and adviser to Mr. Fry’s campaign.
Yet Mr. Rice is betting on his hyper-conservative economic record and his once unabashed support for the former president to win him a sixth term in one of South Carolina’s most pro-Trump congressional districts.
In an interview, Rice noted the Republican Party’s tendency to put social issues above politics – which he said was driven in part by the former president’s party wing, who helped redefine it.
He also explained what the Republican Party should stand for: “less taxes, less government, more freedom, individual responsibility, the American dream,” he said. “If we’re not for this, then, my God, I don’t know what the Republican Party is doing.”
The impeachment vote also won him favor with some voters. Rick Giles, a Rice supporter in Conway, SC, said he admired Mr. Rice for his vote.
“He stood up to Trump when a lot of people didn’t,” Mr Giles said. “He was true to his values. He did not toe the party line. I like this.”
Mr. Rice’s district in the northeast corner of South Carolina along the North Carolina border is one of the most conservative in the state, favoring Republicans by nearly 30 points . And before the impeachment vote, Mr. Rice was one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters, with a voting record that matched Mr. Trump’s position more than 90% of the time.
“This is not my voting record. It’s not about my support for Trump. This is not my ideology. It’s not because that other guy is good,” Rice said. “There’s only one reason he’s doing this. And it’s just for revenge.
Mr Trump has had less success in the states behind his main challenger push. In Georgia, two of his most important perceived enemies, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, handily won their primaries against challengers backed by the former president. The two House races where he did not endorse incumbents went to a runoff.
Mark Sanford, a former congressman who was beaten by Ms Arrington in 2018 after Mr Trump backed her main challenge, predicted Ms Mace would win.
“I think she’ll be fine,” he said, pointing to the growing number of state transplants in northern states that tend to favor settlement applicants. “It bodes well for Nancy, it doesn’t bode well for Katie.”
Still, he said, Tuesday’s result is unlikely to change the former president’s approach to politics.
“It’s binary with Trump,” Mr. Sanford said. “You’re not halfway, halfway – you’re either in or out.”