When then-U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney won reelection last year, he defeated his Democratic opponent by nearly 21 percentage points.
The man who will replace him, former Republican legislator Ralph Norman, said Monday he expected a much closer race this time. And he got one from political newcomer and Sumter financial advisor Archie Parnell on Tuesday.
With all precincts reporting at 10 p.m., Norman had only secured 51 percent of the vote to Parnell’s 48 percent. Norman was buoyed by support from his native York County, which backed him by double-digits. Parnell put up a strong fight in rural Piedmont counties, however, and even topped the GOP favorite in Chester County, which backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“Mr. Mulvaney was an incumbent and it was a different time, a presidential election,” Norman told South Carolina Radio Network before Tuesday’s vote. “I’d just be happy with a win. 50 percent-plus one is what I’d be happy with.”
American Party candidate Josh Thornton, Libertarian nominee Victor Kocher and Green Party candidate David Kulma combined for the remaining 1 percent.
Norman, a real estate developer who had served in the state House for 10 years, won a seat in Congress on his second try. He lost as the Republican nominee to then-incumbent U.S. Rep. John Spratt in the 2006 election. Norman had a reputation in Columbia as one of the more Libertarian-leaning votes in the chamber and he used that record to narrowly win the Republican runoff last month.
“Archie’s a good candidate… and he got his voters out,” Norman said afterwards. “I expected it to be close, as it was. I was glad to win it and glad the campaign is over with. It’s been a long seven months.”
The low turnout and close race surprised many political observers, who had expected a much larger margin for Norman in a district that backed Trump by double-digits last year. Even Democratic Party staff had been excitedly circulating an internal poll last month which showed Parnell trailing by “only” 10 percentage points in the conservative-leaning district. More than 39,000 people also voted in last month’s GOP primary, compared to roughly 18,000 on the Democratic side.
Mulvaney resigned in February to become White House Office of Management and Budget director, creating the need for Tuesday’s vote.