MYRTLE BEACH — In the wake of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice's vote to impeach President Donald Trump and his censure by the state GOP Party, state Rep. Russell Fry is considering running against the congressman in the 2022 GOP primary, potentially presenting Rice's most formidable challenge yet since first winning the seat eight years ago.
Fry, a 36-year-old Surfside Beach Republican, told The Post and Courier he has begun contacting donors and Republican Party members as he explores mounting a campaign against the incumbent 63-year-old GOP congressman.
"I’ve been a champion of conservative ideals all my life. Even as a younger member of the delegation, I’m in the arena every day as the majority whip working on the issues facing South Carolina," Fry told The Post and Courier. "I’m working on them daily."
While Fry said he respects Rice, the state lawmaker said he has heard from supporters and voters asking him to consider running for the seat in the weeks since Rice was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Fry, a lawyer in his fourth term at the Statehouse, said he would not have voted to impeach the president if he were in Congress.
"When you get unsolicited calls and communications from people throughout the 7th (Congressional District), you pay attention," Fry said. "These people are activists and donors, some of them are friends of mine and some are people I’ve never met."
Fry is the latest in a wave of Republican politicians in the 7th Congressional District declaring their interest in a primary challenge of Rice, a Myrtle Beach accountant who was Horry County Council chairman.
State Rep. William Bailey, a second-term lawmaker who was North Myrtle Beach's public safety director, announced his intent to challenge Rice a few days before Fry.
But Fry is considered a more serious threat to Rice, who said the state party was "cowering before Donald Trump" in censuring him on Saturday and not seeing the former president's role in the riot. Rice, who stumped for Trump in his presidential races, was the only Republican in the South to vote in favor of impeachment, and the only member of Congress to support both the objection of the 2020 election results and subsequent impeachment.
Fry is considered an up-and-comer in state GOP politics. He is chief Republican whip in the House, working to develop the party's legislative agenda and rally support on high-profile issues, and former member of the S.C. Republican Party executive committee, the panel that censured Rice.
And, like Rice, Fry, an Eagle Scout who graduated from the University of South Carolina and the Charleston School of Law, hasn’t drawn a serious primary challenger in past election cycles.
S.C. House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said he expects Fry to be a strong candidate, pointing to his "keen ability to network and fundraise."
"He represents his constituents well and works hard to be effective in Columbia, so he would be able to carry those same traits to D.C.," Simrill said. "He has all the foundations in place."
With his state party experience, his ties to representatives from across the region could prove a benefit as Fry rallies support in the district spanning Chesterfield, Dillon, Georgetown, Horry, Marlboro, Darlington, and Marion counties, as well as part of Florence County.
The 7th Congressional District requires a candidate to develop support beyond their home areas. But a majority of the votes are anchored around Horry, giving candidates there an advantage.
The House majority whip position is among the most powerful members of the Statehouse, giving Fry political connections across South Carolina and suggesting he has earned the respect of Republican party leaders as someone capable of helping the party achieve legislative success.
"I think my experiences show the seriousness I treat public policy," Fry said.
Some of his key legislative priorities include addressing the opioid crisis, which earned him the chairman spot on a committee to address the issue, as well as ending human trafficking.
Simrill said Fry’s work on the opioid crisis showcased his ability to take on a difficult issue and work well with other lawmakers.
"If you look at the success he’s had in a short timeframe in Columbia and his ability to work effectively, not only within his own party, but across the aisle, those are the makings of effective leadership," Simrill said. "There are people who like to make a statement, and there are others who like to make a difference. He makes a difference."
If elected to Congress, Fry said, like Rice, would continue supporting conservative issues regarding Second Amendment rights as well as supporting anti-abortion policies. He said he also supports Interstate 73 and would continue to play a role in securing its completion.