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Crowded S Carolina field has all types of Republicans

June 7, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Thirteen Republicans representing the full spectrum of party thinking are trying to rise above the crowd and win the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat opened by Rep. Trey Gowdy’s decision not to seek a fifth term.

Voters have quite the selection of candidates in the 4th District, from an African-American pastor who introduced Trump at rallies, to a young up-and-coming state senator with traditional backing, to an outspoken conservative who tried to prevent transgender people from using their chosen bathrooms. Ten more attorneys, former lawmakers and political newcomers round out the primary.

“It makes sense to have so many Republicans competing for what would likely be a safe Republican seat,” said College of Charleston political professor Gibbs Knotts, who is watching the race closely. “I’m excited.”

There are five Democrats running for their party’s nomination for the seat representing Greenville and Spartanburg, which opened up when Gowdy announced in January he wouldn’t run for a fifth term. A former prosecutor, Gowdy said he realized his talents were better used in the judicial system than in the U.S. House.

Gowdy’s surprise departure has triggered a free-for-all for the open seat in one of South Carolina’s most conservative regions.

With so many candidates, it’s almost certain that none will get a majority in Tuesday’s voting, and as few as 10,000 votes could be enough to win one of two spots in each party’s June 26 runoff.

On the Republican side, state Sen. William Timmons leads the money race, with more than $670,000 in campaign cash on hand. Next is former Spartanburg Republican Party Chairman Josh Kimbrell with $258,000.

Since most of the GOP candidates agree on issues that drive the Republican base to the polls, such as cracking down on illegal immigration and banning abortion, personalities have taken on a larger role.

That’s a development outspoken pastor Mark Burns is embracing. He spent 2016 campaigning with President Donald Trump, but adds “I’m not Donald Trump Jr.”

“I’m in the hood with my bus,” the Greenville pastor said. “People don’t care if I’m Republican or Democrat. They feel that we have forgotten all about them, and there’s no real affordable homes or resources.”

Another favorite is former state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, who sponsored efforts to create a separate South Carolina currency and enable the state to nullify federal laws, such as President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He also wants to exempt guns made and sold in South Carolina from federal gun laws.

“We’ve got a strong record,” Bright said. “I think it’s a pretty solid Republican district and the 4th Congressional District is probably the most conservative across the country.”

Democrats are rooting for Bright to knock out more mainstream GOP contenders, giving them a better chance of flipping a seat Republicans have controlled since 1992.

“We hope to run against Lee Bright. I think the less serious they take us the more it will be to our advantage, said businesswoman Doris Lee Turner, running as a Democrat.

If there ever was a year for Democrats to win this seat, this is the one, without an incumbent and voters perhaps being motivated by anger for the president, Knotts said. They include businessman Brandon Brown, engineer JT Davis, attorney Eric Graben, youth foundation creator Will Morin and accountant Doris Lee Turner.

“Democrats have as good as chance as any. There could be an anti-Trump movement,” Knotts said.

Along with Timmons, Kimbrell, Burns and Bright, the other Republicans running are author Dan Albert, political newcomer Barry Bell, attorney Stephen Brown, small business owner James Epley, state Rep. Dan Hamilton, lawyer John Mosser, former nurse and small business owner Shannon Pierce, U.S. Army veteran Justin Sanders and retired U.S. Army officer Claude Schmid.

“I think people are going to be shocked June 12,” Burns said.