SC1: The GOP Field Emerges

A full field of credible challengers is already forming to take on Joe Cunningham in 2020 …

Our sister news outlet Palmetto Wire did a blurb on this subject yesterday, but the time has come for this news outlet to devote our full attention to the emerging field for South Carolina’s first congressional district (map).

Wait a minute … already?  Didn’t the last election just end?  Yes.

But in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast.”

Less than forty-eight hours after Democrat Joe Cunningham pulled off a stunning upset of Republican nominee Katie Arrington to claim a district that had been in GOP hands for nearly forty years, the Republican floodgates have opened.

From the moment this race was called in the early morning hours Wednesday, multiple credible names have emerged and (in some cases) already begun jockeying for position as possible contenders for this seat.

The competition will be fierce – and national eyes will be watching, as this district will more than likely be among the top two or three Republican takeover targets in the 2020 election cycle.

Who will Republicans nominate to run against Cunningham?

We don’t know.  All we know right now is that there will be no shortage of credible contenders – which makes sense considering the 2010 race for this seat drew ten GOP challengers and the 2013 special election drew a whopping sixteen aspirants.

A similarly crowded field is already massing for 2020.

Who are the early frontrunners?   Glad you asked …


Katie Arrington

(Via: Provided)

Katie Arrington wasted no time in announcing herself as a candidate for the 2020 election – holding a press conference just eight hours after Cunningham was declared the winner in which she affirmed that she and her supporters “aren’t going anywhere.”  The outgoing state representative also wasted no time pointing the finger of blame at the man she believes cost her victory in the 2018 election: Mark Sanford.

“We lost because Mark Sanford could not understand that this race was about the conservative movement – and not about him,” Arrington said.

Arrington also called on Sanford’s financial contributors to “request their donations back, if they are truly conservatives.”

Game on …

Arrington, 47, still has plenty of upside despite her defeat on Tuesday.  Attractive, aggressive and relentlessly resourceful, no one expected her to make it into the general election to begin with … so declaring her politically dead following this week’s loss would be a mistake.

Arrington also has a leg-up on other contenders with district-wide name identification and a built-in grassroots support network.  Furthermore, she linked herself to the bitter end with the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump – which many analysts urged her not to do – and reaffirmed her support for Trump in the aftermath of her defeat.

That could wind up being worth something in a primary dominated by Trump backers.

Does any of this make her the frontrunner for the upcoming race?  Not necessarily.  Arrington’s “blame game” press conference – which accurately assessed the impact of Sanford’s treachery on her campaign  – yielded decidedly negative reviews.  Also we have spoken with many female voters in the district who have told us they have “a hard time relating to her.”

Still, if Arrington is indeed “in” for 2020 – and she says she is – her candidacy will be credible.  And impossible to ignore.


Mark Sanford

(Via: Provided)

Mark Sanford is the real wild card in this forthcoming race.

After losing the 2018 primary to Arrington – an outcome few predicted was possible – he sought to portray himself on the national stage as the “first GOP casualty” of Trump.  With an eye on a possible 2020 presidential challenge, Sanford remains a formidable force in Palmetto politics thanks to his massive war chest and his legendary fundraising ability.

Sanford has $1.5 million left over in his House account from the primary and another $1 million sitting in his gubernatorial account (left over from his 2006 statewide reelection win).  Beyond that, he recently launched a new political action committee that can raise even more funds.

That is a boatload of cash, people … and Sanford is relentless when it comes to dialing for dollars, a task most politicians find arduous.

Obviously there are limits as to how these different pots of money can be used, but in politics cash invariably finds its way into the proper propaganda channel – and Sanford is a master political propagandist.

The only question is whether he will focus on a possible congressional comeback … or seek to use his national fame (infamy?) in pursuit of what we believe would be a long shot presidential bid.

Working against Sanford in a possible 2020 congressional race?  Where to start …

Already exposed on multiple fronts for various hypocrisies, Sanford provided further confirmation of his “do as I say, not as I do” problem during the 2018 primary against Arrington.  Also, the Republican establishment is livid with him for his refusal to support her in the general election – meaning he has alienated Trump voters (something he has been doing for a long time) as well as the GOP’s “team players.”

There is a chunk of the first district electorate that will always support Sanford, and this base and his massive war chest make him credible.  But he is increasingly a “man without a country” politically.

Will his money be enough to help him pull off a second comeback?  Doubtful, but again … in Palmetto politics anything is possible …


Larry Grooms

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Larry Grooms is by far our least favorite name on this list.

In fact, if we could take back anything we have written it would be our 2013 editorial supporting Grooms’ bid for the first district special election (a race ultimately won by Sanford).

A devout social conservative from the rural, inland regions of this district, Grooms is a fiscal liberal who has been among the preeminent defenders of South Carolina’s failed status quo during his tenure in the S.C. Senate.  He is a perpetual (and sadly, far too effective) apologist for the state’s failed government-run port system as well as its spectacularly failed government-run utility – Santee Cooper – one of the stars of the $10 billion #NukeGate debacle.

In fact, we are told Grooms tried to get himself appointed as CEO of Santee Cooper earlier this year – only to be rebuffed by powerful S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman.  Grooms also recently made a play to become the next president of the Senate, but according to our sources he lost out in that effort to former Senate majority leader Harvey Peeler.

Our hope is he will be equally unsuccessful in the event he decides to jump into this race …

This news site has done its best to ratchet down the irascible indignity in recent years, but something about Grooms’ self-serving impetuousness rekindles our old flame-throwing spirit.  He is as servile and sanctimonious a panderer as the Palmetto State has ever seen (which is saying something), and sending him to Washington, D.C. would serve only to advance his naked ambition – not the best interests of the  first district.

Fortunately, Grooms has devoted far too much of his political career to grandstanding on social issues for him to be remotely electable in the increasingly modern, moderate first district … which means his prospects of ever reaching the U.S. congress are exceedingly dim.

Thank God for that …


Catherine Templeton

(Via: Via

Catherine Templeton should be governor-elect of South Carolina right now.  And had Upstate businessman John Warren not been a late entry into the 2018 GOP primary against incumbent Henry McMaster , she probably would be.

Of course there is a flip side to that equation: Had Templeton not savaged Warren with negative ads in the waning days of that race, Warren would be the governor-elect of the Palmetto State right now.

Either one of them would have been vastly preferable to liberal incumbent – and either one of them would have soundly defeated him in a clean, head-to-head race – but unfortunately for Palmetto State taxpayers, they wound up canceling each other out.

Despite her third-place finish in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial race, Templeton’s political potential remains limitless … especially if she learns to heed her own counsel.  In most elections, the battle waged by political strategists involves keeping their candidates from trusting their own instincts.  In Templeton’s case, she should have followed hers.

She didn’t, though.  Which is why a “conservative buzzsaw” lost its edge at a time when a common sense problem-solver (which is what Templeton is at her core) could have broken through in what was a wide open election at the time.

“She wanted a statewide race but I don’t think a statewide race was made for her,” one of Templeton’s top donors told us, referring to the composition of the GOP electorate. “I think this (first district) race is made for her.”

Indeed the assets Templeton brings to the table are no less lustrous following her loss.  Beautiful, brilliant and infinitely well-connected, were she to jump into this race she would immediately become one of the top contenders.  With the same prodigious financial support she received last go-round.

The smart money seems to recognize this …

When Arrington’s loss to Cunningham was announced, our phone lines began lighting up with calls – most of them touting Templeton ahead of all the other potential candidates.  Also, most of the calls we have fielded over the past 36 hours from political consultants looking to align themselves with a 2020 campaign specifically listed Templeton as their first choice.

It is not immediately clear yet whether Templeton will heed these calls, but if she runs we expect her campaign to be well-funded, wiser from the 2018 scrape and well-positioned with the primary electorate.


Nancy Mace

(Via: S.C. House of Representatives)

Nancy Mace – the first female graduate of South Carolina’s government-run military college, The Citadel – swam against a rising Lowcountry Democratic tide in the 2018 general election.  The first-term state legislator – who won a special election for her seat back in January – crushed her well-funded liberal opponent despite being outspent by a five-to-one margin.

She also won both Berkeley and Charleston counties in her race, another indication of her crossover appeal to independent-minded voters.

A former staffer on the 2016 “First in the South” Trump campaign, Mace has also worked in the past for libertarian Ron Paul.  A fiscal conservative, like Sanford she has also rated well on environmental issues – appearing on the front page of The Washington Post earlier this year touting her opposition to offshore drilling, which was a huge issue in the first district this year.

When it comes to the “GOP Spectrum” in this particular district (a moving target, we will admit), Mace probably has more “full spectrum potential” than any of the other candidates under discussion – meaning she checks off all the right boxes on all the right issues.

That positions her very well in a GOP primary.

Not only that, the 40-year-old bombshell is – like Templeton – well-positioned to appeal more broadly to the new demographic in this district, making her the ideal sort of candidate for a general election.

“Aside from electability she has a good story,” one Mace supporter told us.  “One that is relatable to people who have been here awhile but also to newcomers.”

Mace’s first bid for federal office – a Quixotic 2014 U.S. Senate campaign against Lindsey Graham – was an unmitigated disaster, but she learned from her mistakes and has emerged as a seasoned campaigner over the past two elections.

Also, Mace has demonstrated she is exceedingly good at raising money – something that should serve her well as she reaches out to her national networks with an eye on this race.


Tom Davis

(Via: Provided)

What else can we say about Tom Davis?  When it comes to the bread-and-butter tax-and-spending issues that matter to us (and should matter to you), he has been infallible.

Since his election to the South Carolina Senate in 2008, Davis has been the genuine article when it comes to protecting freedom and free markets in state government.

No one else even comes close. 

Most Republican politicians in the Palmetto State pay lip service to these ideals while campaigning – only to abandon them immediately upon taking office.  Not Davis.  A decade after he was first elected, he remains the gold standard for fiscal conservatives in South Carolina – as evidenced by the three-year siege he fought against a regressive gas tax (among other battles).

Also, his recent advocacy on behalf of medical marijuana decriminalization has capably reinforced the libertarian bona fides he staked out for himself in 2012 when he endorsed the “First in the South” presidential bid of Ron Paul.

A brilliant policy mind, Davis also has a potentially promising wedge issue to work with in this race.  As he continues with his full-court press in pursuit of a deepwater port in Jasper County, he will be able to shore up his already strong support in his base while at the same time appealing to Charleston voters who are tired of the congestion accompanying port expansion plans in and around the Holy City.

That could be an electorally potent combination for Davis … whose only real weakness in this race at the moment is the geographic location of his base of strongest support.

Davis toyed with a run for governor in 2018 but ultimately decided against it, much to our chagrin.  In fact, we preemptively endorsed him in that race – and would be hard-pressed not to do so in the event he declared himself a candidate for this seat.


Maria Walls

(Via: Provided)

Who is Maria Walls?

Unlike the other names on this list, hers is not widely known to most of our readers … at least not yet.

A certified public accountant, wife and mother of four gorgeous young kids, Walls is currently serving as the elected treasurer of Beaufort County.  There, this “Greek Goddess” (as one of her particularly ardent admirers refers to her) has developed a small but loyal following owing to her commitment to fiscal conservatism and accountability in government.

Upon taking office in 2015, Walls immediately set to work eliminating waste and streamlining operations in county government.  The results?  Savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  That is a big deal at the local level, not to mention the sort of approach to governing that needs amplification at the state and federal levels …

Walls obviously faces an uphill battle in terms of establishing herself as a known commodity outside of Beaufort County.  Moreover if her senator Tom Davis were to enter this race our guess is she would support his candidacy (she has praised him effusively in the past for his relentless taxpayer advocacy).

If Davis were to opt to stay in the Senate, though, Walls could emerge as a candidate to contend with out of Beaufort …


Obviously this list is by no means exhaustive … nor is it ironclad.  Our guess is in the weeks to come several of the names listed above will decline to run, while others will crop up as rumored or announced candidates of varying viability.

We hope you will continue to count on our news site for the latest updates on this field, as well as our thoughts on how the aspirants might represent the first district in the event they were given the opportunity.




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