Both candidates expected the GOP runoff for an open seat in Congress to be extremely close.
And it proved to be exactly that, leading South Carolina elections officials to order an automatic recount before declaring the Republican Party’s nominee to replace former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney.
Former State Rep. Ralph Norman appeared to have an edge over State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, as the totals came in Tuesday night. With all precincts reporting, Norman had a 203-vote lead over Pope and 50.3 percent of the vote to Pope’s 49.7 percent. But the difference was within one percentage point, which triggers an automatic recount under state law.
The official recount will occur on Friday, with provisional or challenged ballots being reviewed on Thursday. The winner will face the Democratic nominee Archie Parnell, a Sumter financial adviser making his first run for political office.
Pope won almost 54 percent of the vote in York County, where both men call home. But Norman won 9 of the remaining 10 counties which make up the Fifth Congressional District (Chester County being the exception).
“The people are passionate. There’s a sense of patriotism,” Norman told Rock Hill radio station WRHI. “There’s a sense of getting government out of the lives of particularly the business community. And people are ramped up. I think Donald Trump’s brought a whole new dimension to politics.”
Norman had tried to differentiate himself from Pope by focusing on his conservative voting record with his opponent’s record of reaching across the aisle. However, that led to scores of negative ads — particularly in the runoff’s last two weeks — which included attention from national politicians and conservative groups.
“I think the whole election’s been messier than I would’ve thought,” Pope told WRHI. “We’ve said this is in the Lord’s hands now… But we’re going on an adventure one way or another.”
Both candidates trotted out star power in the final two weeks. Norman campaigned with Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday, hoping to burnish his conservative voting record with Cruz’s endorsement. Norman’s staff also noted a contribution from former Gov. Nikki Haley, who counted Norman among her allies in the House. Haley is barred by federal law from formally endorsing a candidate while serving as United Nations ambassador. Pope’s campaign touted endorsements from U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy and state House Speaker Jay Lucas.