House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is picking a favorite in the hotly contested Republican primary in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, backing Nancy Mace over at least six other candidates.
McCarthy, a California Republican who is the top GOP member in the House, endorsed Mace, a state lawmaker from Daniel Island, on Tuesday.
"Nancy Mace is a uniquely impressive candidate and I proudly endorse her for Congress. Her deep local roots and impressive life story makes her the ideal leader to represent the great people of South Carolina’s First District," McCarthy said in a statement.
"Nancy's tireless work ethic, conservative track record and ability to get things done are exactly what’s needed on Capitol Hill," he added. "I look forward to fighting alongside her in Congress to Keep America Great."
McCarthy has also promised to headline an event for Mace in Charleston, but details on the fundraiser are uncertain due to the coronavirus outbreak that has upended Washington, D.C., and caused anxiety across the country.
Mace told The Post and Courier that McCarthy called her just before 9 p.m. Monday to relate he would endorse her in the race.
Mace confirmed she had visited McCarthy in January to discuss the 1st District race, which is a top priority for state and national Republicans who are eager to win back GOP control of the House.
The seat is held by Democrat Joe Cunningham.
"It shows that I am the candidate that can bring people together," Mace said of the endorsement, which she described as "huge."
It is somewhat unusual for national party leaders to weigh in on congressional primary races. Instead, most adopt an oath of neutrality as a way of signaling voters should be the ones to decide the nominee, not the party establishment.
However, Republicans are eager to maximize their odds of winning back control of the House in November, especially in places like the 1st District, which Trump won by 13 points in 2016 but Republicans lost in 2018.
Mace is one of seven declared Republican challengers looking to replace Cunningham of Charleston.
Other GOP contenders include Beaufort County Councilman Mike Covert, Bikers for Trump co-founder Chris Cox, Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing and Bluffton community development leader Brad Mole. Phillip Norris of Summerville has also filed a statement of candidacy.
Jamison Vann Johnson of Charleston is a newcomer to the race, who filed to run for the seat at the end of January.
As of Dec. 31, Mace leads her competitors in fundraising efforts, raising $868,779 in 2019 and ending the year with $712,641 cash on hand.
News of the endorsement has already drawn the ire of at least one GOP candidate in the field.
While speaking at a GOP event in the Lowcountry on Monday, Cox tore into Mace for earning the McCarthy endorsement. He did not mention Mace or McCarthy by name when he voiced his frustration.
Cox claimed he received a call from the Oval Office last week in which he was told there was "someone of very high influence in the president's ear trying to get him to endorse one of my opponents."
"It was one of the highest senior members in the House of Representatives from the state of California, trying to influence this race and the Lowcountry. Because you know why? They want an establishment candidate in the House that they can control," Cox said.
McCarthy has been wading into other contested GOP contests around the country.
Last month, he endorsed Republican Tiffany Shedd in Arizona's 1st Congressional District race, where at least four Republicans are vying for the nomination.
When President Donald Trump held a "Keep America Great" rally in North Charleston in late February, he did not mention the local race. Mace did receive a shout-out from Vice President Mike Pence during a Feb. 13 visit to The Citadel.
Mace is the first female to graduate The Citadel's Corps of Cadets.