South Carolina 5th Special Election: Background and Outlook

With the confirmation of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) as Director of the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month, we’ll be watching his district for a special election.

Mulvaney’s now-vacant 5th district consists of a swath of counties largely based in the state’s┬ánorth-central region. It takes in many small and medium sized towns in the state’s Piedmont region. In recent years, its northern counties, York and Lancaster in particular, have seen a decent influx of suburbanites due to its proximity to the growing Charlotte, NC metro area.

Though the district typically voted very close to the statewide margin in recent Presidential election, Trump overperformed there. Trump carried the state 55/41, but won SC-05 by a heftier 57/39:


Traditionally, this was one of the more Democratic areas of the state. For example, in 1980, SC-05 gave President Carter his best showing in the state. He lost the state by 1.5% but carried the 5th district by 9%. As suburban voters became a more influential block, the character of the district changed. By the late 1990’s, it had become slightly GOP leaning. In 1996, Dole carried the district, though by less than a point. By 2000, it gave President Bush a comfortable 14% win, and SC-05 has kept a GOP lean since then.

Despite the area’s GOP trend, it sent a Democrat, Rep. John Spratt, to Congress until the wave of 2010. Spratt was elected in 1982, when the area was reliably Democratic. A Blue Dog, he was popular – until his defeat, he had two close races in the 90’s, but otherwise won by double-digits. Finally, in 2010, the trend of the district prevailed, and State Senator Mick Mulvaney ended Spratt’s career:


After redistricting, SC-05 got redder, as it dropped many of those blue precincts by the Pee Dee River Basin.

It’s a bit ironic that, Mulvaney will be heading the OMB, as at the time of his defeat, Spratt chaired the House Budget Committee.

Democrats strongest candidate for this race would be State Senator Vince Sheheen. Sheheen represents Kershaw County, and ran for Governor twice against Nikki Haley. In 2010, while Spratt lost by 10%, Sheheen came very close to carrying SC-05 (though he would have lost the new version 51/47):


And now this is the part where I tell you that, as of now, the Democrats don’t have a candidate for the special election. Other than Sheheen – who has ruled out running – Democrats have a number of state legislators in this area. Given that this is a special election, none would have to vacate their seats to run.

The GOP field, by contrast, is getting a little crowded. Two of the more serious candidates are legislators from the Greater Charlotte area. State Rep. Ralph Norman has resigned his legislative to run, and has challenged House Speaker Pro Temp Tommy Pope (also running) to do the same. Another big name is former state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly. Sheri Few, an anti-Common Core activist who has lost several legislative races, is also running. Tom Mullikin, an attorney and first-time candidate, is also running. Mullikin serves as a commander in the SC State Guard and is emphasizing veterans issues.

The primary is scheduled for May 2nd. If no candidate clears 50%, a runoff will be two weeks later – on May 16th. The general election will be on June 21st (which happens to be the Summer Solstice!).

As of now, we have to rate this race as Strong Republican, considering, ya know, they have candidates running.