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Special spotlight: SC Republicans vie to replace Mulvaney

FILE- In this July 8, 2015 file photo, Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, speaks in Columbia, S.C. The special election spotlight has rolled on to South Carolina, where Republican runoff voters are now tasked with deciding which mainstream Republican they'll choose as their pick to keep Mick Mulvaney's former seat in GOP control. Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman are up for election in Tuesday's GOP runoff in the 5th Congressional District. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The special election spotlight has rolled on to South Carolina, where two Republicans are vying to be the party’s candidate in the race for the seat vacated by GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney.

In a special election primary earlier this month, voters in the Republican-leaning 5th Congressional District south of Charlotte rejected the flamethrowers and alternative candidates in a seven-way GOP primary selecting more mainstream candidates Ralph Norman and Tommy Pope to face each other in Tuesday’s runoff.

The winner will face well-funded Democrat Archie Parnell on June 20.

Both GOP candidates selectively align with President Donald Trump, supporting his proposed border wall with Mexico as well as favoring his efforts to promote U.S. economic growth by loosening federal regulations.

But while Pope has the support of several high-profile state Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Norman has gotten the backing of more hard-right conservative organizations from outside the state. That vein of support includes Ted Cruz, who will be in the district Monday to campaign for Norman, and the Club For Growth’s political arm, which has run ads such as one slamming Pope for supporting a plan then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called “a backdoor attempt to implement Obamacare in South Carolina.”

The congressional district, which spans 11 counties and stretches north from Columbia, had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years until the 2010 election, when Mulvaney unseated longtime Democratic Rep. John Spratt, partly due to redistricting after the 2010 census.

TOMMY POPE

Pope, first elected to the state House in 2010, serves as its speaker pro tem, the chamber’s No. 2 official. The York attorney was the top vote-getter in the May 2 GOP primary election, edging out Norman by less than 1 percent of votes cast.

Perhaps best known as the prosecutor who put South Carolina mother Susan Smith in prison for life for killing her two young sons in the 1990s, Pope had planned a 2018 gubernatorial bid but abandoned that effort after Mulvaney’s seat opened up upon his confirmation as White House budget director.

Pope has been a major backer of raising the state’s gas tax to get more funding for the state’s roads, as well as ethics reform, sponsoring a bill to revamp the State Ethics Commission and require officials to report the sources of income on their income tax returns, as well as income sources of their spouses and dependent children.

Pope has gotten backing from House Speaker Jay Lucas, state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

RALPH NORMAN

Norman, a Rock Hill real estate developer, resigned from his state House seat earlier this year to concentrate on the congressional race. First sent to Columbia in 2004, he resigned two years later, when he unsuccessfully challenged Spratt.

Re-elected to his seat in 2008, Norman became a chief advocate for former Gov. Nikki Haley when the Republican was elected governor in 2010. At times, he was the sole vote on her side: in 2012, Norman cast the lone vote to sustain Haley’s veto on a bill meant to help undo a permit allowing Georgia to expand its port in Savannah.

Haley hasn’t forgotten that support. As the runoff approached, the current U.N. ambassador sent a $100 contribution to Norman’s campaign coffers.

Norman is endorsed by former state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly, who finished third in the May 2 primary, and FreedomWorks, a conservative political action group, as well as Cruz and Jim DeMint.

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Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Reach her at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.

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