COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republicans held onto Mick Mulvaney’s South Carolina congressional seat in Tuesday’s special election, but the 3-point margin was hardly what they may have been presuming, given Mulvaney’s 20-point victory in November.
Why – and how – did Democrats outperform expectations in South Carolina, where all statewide officers are Republicans, and six of the seven U.S. House seats are, too?
It could be in part because the national party largely stayed out of the race.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee funneled $5 million into Georgia’s 6th District, where voters also selected a Republican on Tuesday in what became seen as a test for Republican strength in the nascent Trump administration.
In South Carolina’s 5th District, in Democratic control for a century until Mulvaney’s 2010 victory, the DCCC invested a modest $275,000, money that was largely directed toward turnout within the African-American community, about 28 percent of the district’s population.
Turnout is traditionally low in special elections, without a bigger race atop the ticket and draw voter interest. At 18 percent, Tuesday night’s turnout in South Carolina was more than it had been for party primaries earlier this year but still struggled to earn voter attention.
And at least some of that turnout drive worked for Democrats; Archie Parnell performed far better in a handful of counties than Hillary Clinton did in November’s presidential election. The Democrat even won one county, Chester, that went for Donald Trump in the fall.
National Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez stumped with Parnell, as did several sitting congressional Democrats from other states.
But Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, said that higher visibility in this deep red state from national-level surrogates could have turned centrist voters – already skittish after the fractious 2016 Democratic primary process – away from Democratic nominee Parnell.
“Basically, it might have been a bigger victory for the Republicans had the national Democratic party gotten more involved, and there were more outside money spent in South Carolina,” said Knotts. “It used to be Ted Kennedy that was the poster child that Republicans would hold up when Dems were campaigning. Now it’s Nancy Pelosi.”
Surrogate help was likely a boost for Norman, who stumped with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. Conservative groups like the Club for Growth backed Norman in his primary fight, and Trump recorded a robocall for Norman, who has said he aligns himself with the president, who won this area by more than 18 percentage points.
Interviewed immediately after his victory, Norman said he wasn’t surprised by his slim margin of victory.
“He got the voters out, got them motivated,” Norman told The Associated Press Tuesday night, of Parnell. “The closeness doesn’t surprise me. But elections in the 5th District are interesting to say the least.”
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.