SC race vies for airtime as Georgia pulls focus

SC race vies for airtime as Georgia pulls focus
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South Carolina Democrat Archie Parnell will have to compete with more than just his GOP opponent in a special election next Tuesday — he’ll have to battle for attention with Georgia’s own House race.

The South Carolina election to fill Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s old seat has gone mostly under the radar, even as Democrats and Republicans have launched high-profile fights for other seats left open by President Trump’s Cabinet appointments.


By comparison, Georgia’s special election has been a magnet for national attention, becoming the most expensive House race in U.S. history. On Tuesday, South Carolina will have to share the spotlight as voters in both states head to the polls in two of the final special elections in the country.

“It’s hard to share the stage with somebody who has raised $23 million,” Tyler Jones, a South Carolina Democratic strategist, said of Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff’s special election bid.

“Jon Ossoff has, through no fault of his own, sucked the air out of the room and that has been made it very, very tough for Parnell to gain traction nationally.”

Like Democrats in other red-district special elections this year, Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs senior adviser, is trying to deliver a major upset amid strong anti-Trump headwinds around the country. It’s his first time mounting a run for elected office, having easily won the Democratic nomination in May.

Unlike Ossoff and Democratic candidates in Montana and Kansas, Parnell has had difficulty catching fire nationally.

Parnell also hasn’t garnered the same kind of grassroots fundraising boost from the party’s resurgent left wing that other special election Democrats have — an issue that could have been aggravated by his Wall Street ties. Still, Kansas Democrat James Thompson, whose House bid was endorsed by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHow can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally MORE (I-Vt.), made a fundraising pitch to supporters via email on behalf of Parnell.

Strategists say it’ll be hard to make the South Carolina race a referendum on Trump, who carried the district by nearly 20 points in November. Before his appointment, Mulvaney had easily won reelection to the seat several times.

In an interview with The Hill, Parnell said running in a lower-profile race has “good and bad aspects to it.”

“There’s not as much focus on the Republican side of this as well,” Parnell said.

“My opponent is just so starkly extreme on so many of his positions. The contrast is so dramatic, people have to start paying attention to that.”

Strategists say the long odds and comparatively fewer resources have motivated Parnell’s campaign to get creative. A campaign ad where Parnell parodied the Netflix series “House of Cards,” for example, drew him some national headlines.

Polls reflect Parnell’s slim chance of winning, although the gap is closing between him and his GOP opponent, former state Rep. Ralph Norman. An internal poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research at the end of May found Parnell down by 10 points, compared to a survey from March that showed him lagging behind by 16 points.

Even with the tough odds, national Democrats have decided to give Parnell a small boost in the final weeks.

Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm, announced it will spend $275,000 to help Parnell. The DCCC’s money will be focused on turning out black voters through mailers and digital outreach as well as paying for three full-time field organizers.

Parnell has also received help from the Progressive Turnout Project, which made a five-figure investment on text messaging Democratic voters and urging them to go to the polls.

Parnell also got some help on the campaign trail with visits from Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez and DNC Associate Chairman Jaime Harrison, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. In addition to those visits, his campaign has gotten guidance from Rep. James Clyburn, the only Democrat in South Carolina’s congressional delegation.

Mulvaney was the first Republican since the end of Reconstruction to hold the seat. But in 2012, redistricting transformed the district into a safe GOP seat, and Mulvaney has easily won reelection since then.

Despite the challenge facing Parnell and his supporters, Democrats argue that there’s that same high enthusiasm in the Palmetto State as Americans are seeing in other pockets of the country.

“There’s a palpable feeling that things are going wrong, and by getting together and doing something together, we can change things,” Parnell said.

Starting this week, Norman, the GOP nominee, has embarked on an 11-county tour. On Friday, he’ll be joined on the campaign trail by former Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who was recently ousted from his position leading the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“My candidacy is one that fits the district and fits the Mick Mulvaney-Jim DeMint philosophy,” Norman said.

Political observers in the state say Parnell will need to focus on turning out African-Americans, who make up nearly 30 percent of the district. 

“Republicans ... tried to make it virtually impossible for a Democrat to get elected, but it’s not completely impossible especially in a special election,” Jones said. “So it will come down to enthusiasm and turnout of base Democratic voters.”