COLUMBIA — Republicans vying to succeed Mick Mulvaney in Congress are playing follow the leader.
On the heels of President Donald Trump’s South Carolina success during the 2016 election, candidates in the special election to fill Mulvaney's seat are embracing the New York billionaire’s populist message for a seat on Capitol Hill.
State Rep. Tommy Pope is giving away an Ivanka Trump handbag in the face of backlash from the “liberal media” about her hawking her goods. Tom Mullikin, an attorney and commander of the S.C. State Guard, refused to participate in a candidates’ forum last week because of what he considered anti-Trump comments made by the moderator. Education activist Sheri Few’s campaign slogan, “Make America America Again,” is an offshoot of Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”
“The Trump message played pretty well in South Carolina,” Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson said. “This is a great message because (voters) know something about it. They’ve heard it all. It’s been out there for so long.”
In all, 15 candidates — seven Republicans, three Democrats and five third-party hopefuls — filed by Monday to run in the special election for Mulvaney’s seat to represent the 5th District, which stretches from the Charlotte suburb of Rock Hill to Sumter. Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican, resigned last month to become Trump’s budget chief.
The Republicans and Democrats will hold a primary on May 2. The special election is set for June 20.
The seat is expected to remain under Republican control.
Mulvaney won a fourth term handily in November over Democrat Fran Person, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden.
The 5th District also went huge for Trump last year.
Ten of the 11 counties that make up the seat gave Trump more support than his statewide average during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. And the president won eight of the 11 counties in the general election over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Republican voters will want someone backing the president and his policies despite any recent controversies, S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore said. Trump received a 77 percent approval rating from South Carolina Republicans last month in a Winthrop University poll despite receiving an overall mark of 44 percent in the state.
“It’s smart politics to be tied to the president,” Moore said.
Still considering the unpredictability of news coming from the White House, Trump wannabes might be taking a risk, a longtime S.C. political consultant said.
“I think people will look silly trying to be like Donald Trump because they’re not Donald Trump,” Greenville political strategist Chip Felkel said. “Good Lord, who knows what’s going to happen with this administration in the next few months? Why not be your own person?”
Pope, an attorney who prosecuted murderer Susan Smith, is considered a favorite in the race. Other top Republicans include Mullikin; Chad Connelly, a former state party chairman who worked most recently with the Republican National Committee; and state Rep. Ralph Norman, a real estate developer.
Other Republicans running are Few, Ray Craig and Kris Wampler.
All three Democrats in the special election are political newcomers: Alexis Frank, Les Murphy and Archie Parnell. South Carolina’s top Democrat hopes Trump fatigue might boost his party’s pick during the short campaign window. Plus, a primary will not hurt.
“If (the nominee) runs against an officeholder, we don’t want this to be their first race,” S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said. “If they make some mistakes, they can clean them up and run a stronger general campaign.”
The third-party candidates in the special election are David Kulma of the Green Party; Josh Thornton of the American Party; and Bill Bledsoe, Nathaniel Cooper and Victor Kocher, all of the Libertarian Party. Bledsoe also is running as the Constitution Party candidate.