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Early voting, redistricting and endorsements may help decide contentious,1st District GOP primary

Arrington Mace campaign photo for online.jpg
Arrington/ Mace campaigns
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Katie Arrington (left) tries to unseat Nancy Mace (right) in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District

It is one of the most closely watched and contentious primaries in the state as Republican, freshman Congresswoman Nancy Mace defends her seat against a former state representative trying for a second time to win the 1st District.

“You know, my opponent just simply cannot tell the truth,” says Mace.

“I told her I would take a lie detector test any time any place,” replies challenger Katie Arrington.

Questions about Arrington’s departure from her Defense Department cybersecurity job and allegations she convinced another challenger to drop out of the race in exchange for a job have lead to finger pointing and name calling. But new, early voting, recent redistricting and key endorsements could also help decide this intense race.

Endorsements

Arrington boasts in campaign ads she is "Trump endorsed". The former president is backing her and held a campaign rally three months ago in Florence to announce his support for Arrington and another primary challenger in the 7th GOP District primary. But the endorsements are also an attack on congressional incumbents Trump believes wronged him.

For instance, the former president is upset with Mace, who once worked for him, because she certified the election for Joe Biden despite Trump's false claims it was rigged. But the first Republican woman elected to Congress from South Carolina defends her decision saying the vice president did not have the power to overturn the results of the electoral college. If he did so arbitrarily, she says, a precedent would have been set that allowed a Democrat to possibly do the same in 2024.

“And oh, by the way, the electoral college is the only way that Republicans are able to win the White House to win the presidency,” says Mace. “It’s something we should protect.”

"The electoral college is the only way Republicans are able to win the White House... It's something we should protect."
Nancy Mace

Only one Republican president has won the popular vote since 1988. That was George W. Bush in 2004.

Arrington has had Trump’s backing before. He endorsed her during her first primary bid against incumbent Mark Sanford for whom the former president held a grudge. Arrington won that race but went on to lose the general election to Democrat Joe Cunningham flipping the seat for the first time in decades.

Mace also has a Republican heavy weight behind her. Former governor Nikki Haley who served as ambassador to the United Nations has endorsed Mace There is speculation Haley could run for president in 2024 and that Trump could as well.

Issues

But what about this race right now as the nation faces inflation, mass shootings and a pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that could greatly impact abortion?

Mace says she favors restricting abortions with the exceptions of rape and incest. There are legislative solutions, she says, to gun violence without violating second amendment rights. And when it comes to inflation, she points out, Arrington voted in favor of the highest gas tax hike in South Carolina when she was a state representative. It’s a tax with impacts still being felt.

“So, when folks go around and see stickers and hear people saying, ‘well Joe Biden did that’ well then you can say Katie Arrington helped him,” says Mace.

“It’s just really sad that Nancy Mace continues to act like you know, a swamp creature,” says Arrington.

"It's just really sad Nancy Mace continues to act like, you know, a swamp creature."
Katie Arrington

Arrington believes Mace turned her back on Trump and the district when she voted to certify the election. Arrington still contends Trump won.

When it comes to mass shootings, Arrington says the nation does not have a gun problem but a moral one. She says life has been devalued by abortions because it begins at conception. As for inflation, Arrington blames the Biden administration and Republicans like Mace who support issues popular with conservatives like transgender athletic bans but also back bipartisan efforts to legalize marijuana.

“She’s proud of the fact that she’s aligned herself with Democrats,” says Arrington. “That’s not what we need.”

Redistricting

Mace says the people she represents in the 1st Congressional District are not all conservative. But that may have changed with redistricting.

Areas of Charleston, including the peninsula, have been moved to the 6th District in what many Democrats have alleged is gerrymandering. It is the only district in the state where a Democrat, Jim Clyburn, has long held a seat. While the newly drawn maps could keep the 1st District seat from flipping as it did in 2018, they could also prevent constituents who voted for Mace from doing so again.

And, there is a recently enacted law that for the first time in the state’s history allows early voting two weeks prior to the election. More people casting votes could certainly impact the outcome of this race.

Whoever wins Tuesday’s Republican primary will face Democrat Annie Andrews. The MUSC pediatrician did not have a challenger.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.