Stage set for tense primary showdown for South Carolina’s First Congressional District

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 3:42 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 30, 2022 at 6:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The stage is now set for a battle for South Carolina’s First Congressional District.

At noon the filing deadline for candidates closed with three Republicans candidates, two independent candidates and one Democratic candidate. Political Science Professor Gibbs Knotts at the College of Charleston says this race is significant for the entire country, not just the Lowcountry.

“This is the type of district that’s going to decide who controls the House,” Knotts said. “Depending on who wins SC-1, you know, that’s going to probably be a good indicator of what’s going to happen in similar districts across the country.”

Incumbent Nancy Mace is being challenged on the right by former State Representative Katie Arrington and another right-wing opponent, Lynz Piper-Loomis. Arrington won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement; an advantage Mace had in 2020.

Arrington also appeared alongside Trump at a rally in Florence earlier this month.

“I think if Nancy Mace can make it through the primary, she’s really going to be the favorite but getting out of that primary. . . because, you know, Nancy Mace has made some Republicans angry, and Katie Arrington has really connected herself to Donald Trump,” Knotts said. “Nancy Mace has gotten some unbelievable endorsements as well. She’s gotten Nikki Haley and Mick Mulvaney, so she’s gotten people that have worked in the Trump administration.”

While there are nearly 50 Republican candidates across all Charleston County races, Republican Chairman Maurice Washington says no race keeps him up at night more than the First Congressional District. In 2018, Arrington beat incumbent Mark Sanford in the primary and then lost in the general election to Joe Cunningham.

“It would be disingenuous to say that 2018 does not create some concern when we look towards November 2022,” Washington said. “The lines were drawn favorably in 2018 and we lost. So we cannot take anything for granted.”

Party rules prevent Washington from endorsing any candidate. He says the people will decide who the party supports, but that it is critical for them to come together for the general election.

“Once the primary is over, we have to quickly come together and heal the wounds that may have been opened as a result of the primary,” Washington said. “I think our folks are mature enough to do exactly that because the real win awaits us in November.”

The problem of a primary is not one the Democrats have to worry about. Political newcomer and pediatrician Dr. Annie Andrews has found herself running unopposed. She’s hoping to become the second Democrat to flip the district blue after Joe Cunningham did it in 2018.

“It makes all of our jobs easy to just put our support behind a really strong, highly qualified candidate,” said Charleston County Democratic Chairman Greg Perry. “It doesn’t matter which one of them is the choice for the Republican side. I feel like we have a strong candidate that will certainly be triumphant in November.”

This will be the first time the district will be decided using new congressional district lines, something all sides agree have made the district more favorable to Republicans.

“The maps I’ve seen are maybe like, 5-10% more [Republican],” Knotts said. “The elections in 2018 and 2020 were not decided by that many votes, and so it’s probably enough to make an impact in 2022.”

Both Perry and Washington say the Charleston district is more about personality and platform than party label. While most races are won by driving base support to the polls, the purple district is won by converting swing voters in the middle.

“One of the things that I really appreciate about this candidate is that they are not running just for Democrats,” Perry said. “They’re [Andrews] running for everyone. So this is a good candidate that I believe will excite not just Democrats but Republicans to vote for her.”

“How we message to the middle becomes very, very important and I think if we focus on issues that matter the most to the voters in the middle, we should be okay,” Washington said. “No party can afford to go off of the reservation for lack of a better term.”

The election comes at a time where integrity and access to the ballot box has been highly scrutinized by both parties. The South Carolina Legislature has undertaken election reform at the state level like many states. However, unlike many states, the package of election reforms passed by lawmakers received bipartisan support without a single vote of opposition in the House.

“A lot of those loopholes that COVID-19 created and took advantage of by Democrats on the left have been closed. So that is going to be a big difference,” Washington said.

Also on the ballot is Alliance Party Joe Oddo and Labor Party Lucus Faulk.

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