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Nancy Mace's Citadel ties could give a big advantage in November election

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Nancy Mace, at Saltwater Cowboys, celebrates her win over three other candidates — Chris Cox, Kathy Landing and Brad Mole — to compete for South Carolina Republicans in the 1st Congressional District race Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

If The Citadel's gray line comes together for Nancy Mace in the fall, consider this: there are 34,000 Citadel grads worldwide and 12,500 active members of the alumni association.

And if each threw her a few bucks, they could make Mace's GOP congressional campaign account overflow with cash some 21 years after she became the first female graduate of the Corps of Cadets.

But since the school alumni association is traditionally non-partisan, that puts Mace in the odd position of balancing her Citadel credentials against not over-exposing those who wear the school ring as she pursues her political ambitions.

"We are very tightknit, we are very close, and I wouldn't be where I am today without their support," Mace told Palmetto Politics of the alumni network.

While The Citadel Alumni Association might formally be on the sidelines for now, there's plenty of evidence the current enrollment will be helping her out.

The cadet-filled Citadel Republican Society — which can call up as many as 700 members — officially endorsed Mace on the day of the June 9 primary.

"We believe Ms. Mace has the ability to unite conservatives and independent voters across the district to defeat (incumbent Democrat) Joe Cunningham in November," their statement of support read.

Going forward, the club can drum up a battalion of volunteers who can get out the vote, stuff envelopes, phone bank and knock on doors.

That's a huge staffing advantage in a political campaign, especially for a district that stretches for half the state's coast, from around Charleston to Hilton Head Island.

Mace represents "a lot of things that matched our values," Republican Society President Austin Burgess, a senior from near Anderson, told Palmetto Politics. 

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One odd fact of the congressional map, though, is that The Citadel campus actually sits in the footprint of Democrat Jim Clyburn's 6th Congressional District — not inside the 1st District now held by Cunningham.

That's how the boundaries were drawn dividing the Charleston peninsula a decade ago, dropping the military school inside the lines of the state's most liberal member.

Beyond what the cadets are doing, the school administration previously gave a nod of approval when it embraced Mace as a candidate for elected office, something that surfaced when she was mentioned by Vice President Mike Pence during his campus visit in February.

Pence called Mace “an extraordinary American with an extraordinary lifetime of accomplishments — past, present and future.”

The moment became part of a Mace campaign ad the school was fine with.

“We believe firmly that graduating from The Citadel is an achievement, and we’re pleased that anyone who seeks public office would consider graduating from our college to be part of their highlight reel,” Col. John L. Dorrian, the college’s vice president of communication and marketing, said at the time.

Of course, anything can happen in politics. For sure, there are Democrats who wear the ring who won't support Mace, and there may be some alumni still stung over the school losing its legal battle to stay all-male. There's also a school club for Democrats, though smaller than the Republican one.

But others say they support Mace wholeheartedly.

Citadel Alumni Association President Ed White of Summerville said there is nothing in the group's bylaws preventing the body from making a political endorsement.

He plans to send Mace a donation, he said, noting in an interview how effective the alumni association is in staying connected with its far flung membership.

If Mace does get to Congress, she would not be the school's first in recent history. Republican Gresham Barrett, Class of '83, represented Upstate South Carolina from 2003-11, and Steve Buyer, Class of '80, represented Indiana for 18 years, also until 2011.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

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