COLUMBIA — The Confederate battle flag has drifted into the fight to fill a vacant South Carolina seat in Congress, with one candidate proudly supporting it and accusing two of her rivals of backing down to political correctness.
Sheri Few, one of a handful of Republicans vying for the 5th District seat vacated by President Donald Trump's new budget director Mick Mulvaney, is trying to woo voters that idolize the rebel banner.
The Lugoff resident released a political video online criticizing current and former state representatives Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman, who voted to take down the battle flag after Dylann Roof's racially-motivated murder of nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
"It's time for people to stand up and stop political correctness," Few said in the ad, blaming her fellow Republicans for "starting a war on our history."
The political attack ad has effectively woven the Palmetto State's ongoing dispute over the Confederate battle flag into the special GOP primary, which will take place May 2. The 5th District stretches from the North Carolina line near Charlotte to Sumter, and includes Shaw Air Force Base.
Few, who previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for South Carolina superintendent of education, told The Post and Courier the vote to take down the flag from the Statehouse grounds in July 2015, just weeks after the Emanuel shooting, was a "knee jerk reaction."
“It’s erasing not only Southern heritage, but American history. That’s what communist dictators do," said Few, who has made her campaign slogan "Make America America Again."
“I have not seen any negative response to my position, because people see what I am saying is absolutely correct,” she added.
Members of the South Carolina Democratic Party, however, were already jumping on Few's comments. Fifth District Democratic hopeful Archie Parnell, a businessman and former manager at Goldman Sachs, said the other Republican candidates need to reject the division that Few's campaign is promoting.
"The last thing we need are more politicians who prey on fear and hate," he said.
Parnell and his fellow Democratic candidates — Army veteran Alexis Frank and Marine veteran Les Murphy — are all seeking to flip the congressional seat that had been held by Republican Mulvaney since 2011.
Pope and Norman said they aren't focused on Few's attacks, but aren't backing away from their votes to take down the flag.
“She’s made it an issue. That’s fine. I don’t even respond to that. If I had to do it over again, I would vote to take it down,” said Norman, who is running a campaign focused on shrinking the national budget, which he believes mirrors Mulvaney's work in Congress.
Pope said he has already faced a primary opponent for his Statehouse seat that tried to make his vote on the Confederate flag an issue. He pointed out that he won that race.
“It was a difficult vote, and at the end of the evening, I did what I thought I had to do,” said Pope, a former prosecutor who is running on a platform of increasing security in the world and at the U.S. border.
But the special Republican primary, which could head to a runoff election on May 16 if one of the candidates doesn't get more than 50 percent of the vote, has an even more crowded field than what Pope faced earlier. Attorney Kris Wampler, attorney Tom Mullikin and the repeat candidate Ray Craig, who challenged Mulvaney in 2016, are also on the Republican ballot.
So too is former South Carolina Republican Party chair Chad Connelley, who earlier this week picked up the endorsement of North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. He currently chairs the U.S. House Freedom Caucus, which essentially killed the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year.
“People have choices to make, and I think it’s a good thing,” said Norman, who was recently endorsed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. "I respect anybody that puts their name on the line. It’s expensive and time consuming.”