06/20/2017 15:29 EDT | Updated 06/20/2017 16:41 EDT

South Carolina voters choosing Mulvaney's replacement

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina voters determine Tuesday who will succeed Mick Mulvaney in Congress, a seat Republicans feel is safely in their control but one that had a long history in Democratic hands.

The race has garnered far less national attention than another special election in Georgia's 6th District, the most expensive U.S. House contest to date. That race is seen as an early test for the GOP and President Donald Trump since his win over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

South Carolina's 5th District has been held solidly by Mulvaney since his 2010 victory. There, the GOP ticket defeated Clinton by more than 18 percentage points in November, giving Republicans the confidence they say will keep the seat in their party's hands.

Republican real estate developer Ralph Norman is confronting Democrat Archie Parnell for Mulvaney's seat. National surrogates have stumped for both. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint campaigned with Norman, while national Democratic Chairman Tom Perez came to town for Parnell.

Democrats had held the South Carolina seat for more than a century until Mulvaney rode a tea party wave to defeat longtime incumbent John Spratt in 2010. Despite a variety of challengers since, he held the seat until his confirmation earlier this year as White House budget director.

As they have in other special election contests across the country this year, Democrats recruited a field of candidates to make a play for the GOP-held seat. Norman emerged from a GOP runoff with only a 200-vote victory, a slim margin on which Democrats want to capitalize, saying it belies a deep GOP divide.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has only plunked $275,000 into the South Carolina race, compared to a $5 million investment in the special election in Georgia's 6th District. That's a signal of how much of a chance the party gauges it has to pick up the Georgia seat, which has been in GOP hands since Newt Gingrich's 1978 victory.

Norman, a former state lawmaker who challenged Spratt for the 5th District seat in 2006 and aligns himself with Trump, said during a recent candidate forum that the November presidential election results would work in his favour in his own race.

"Trump is still very popular in our area," Norman said. "His first big decision in putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court excited the people we're coming into contact with. He proved his mettle."

David L. O'Neal, a retired Army officer and paratrooper from Tega Cay, backed Norman in the primary and said the Republican earned his general election vote in part because of his stance on veterans' issues.

"As a retired military officer, I feel Ralph is strongest on military issues, wanting a strong defence," O'Neal said Tuesday. "And I know he is 100 per cent with the veterans on their issues."


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