While South Carolina presidential voters were going with a political outsider, in other federal races Tuesday night they stuck with the tried and true. Incumbents ruled the night.
In one U.S. Senate race and seven U.S. House races across the state, incumbents returned to office.
The old guard had to sweat a little, especially in the case of Rep. Mick Mulvaney in the 5th Congressional District race. Democrat Fran Person, despite being a newcomer to the process and being outspent two to one, even in a loss, the results seemed to justify the hope South Carolina Democrats have placed in the former aide to Joe Biden.
It wasn’t just Tuesday’s vote total that worked against Person. He was out-raised by about a 2-to-1 margin (just more than $1.1 million to $620,000), according to Federal Election Commission reports. Those reports reflected the money arriving through October 19.
Person was hardly alone in fighting an uphill battle. All incumbents in the state crushed their opposition in fund raising.
In the seven U.S. House races, Democrats raised just under $3 million, but more than $2 million of that went to the lone Democrat incumbent, Rep. James Clyburn. Clyburn’s rivals raised nothing, according to the FEC reports.
Meanwhile Republican incumbents raised more than $6 million. The voting reflected that disparity. Rep Joe Wilson raised $619,000 to Democrat challenger Arik Bjorn’s $53,000. Rep. Wilson was winning by almost a two-to-one margin with about half the vote in.
Rep. Trey Gowdy outraised Christopher Fedalei by a margin of $1.5 million to $91,000. Votes in that district were slow to be counted.
Rep. Mark Sanford collected $679,847 in donations, and 62 percent of the vote, with the vote in 18 of the 46 counties fully counted, and partially counted in another 16 counties, according to the South Carolina State Election Commission website. The challenger, Dimitri Cherny, had raised $26,000.
Rep. Jeff Duncan raised $554,344 according to the report, while his Hosea Cleveland brought in $9,045. That vote was favoring Duncan by more than a two to one margin.
Rep. Tom Rice, the incumbent in the new-ish 7th Congressional District race raised just more than $1 million, compared with the $70,000 raised by Democrat Mal Hyman. In that district, the vote remained tight, though Rice was maintaining a 52 percent to 48 percent edge.
And nowhere was the gap as wide as in the U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Republican Tim Scott raised $5.9 million, about 160 times that collected by Democratic challenger Thomas Dixon. The senator was collecting about six of every 10 votes.
Still, in Person, South Carolina political experts believe the Democrats found a candidate who will last beyond this race.
Donald Fowler, South Carolina political scientist and former national Democratic National Committee chairman, said nobody in South Carolina politics made the mistake of underestimating Mulvaney.
Mulvaney came into office by winning a 2010 campaign against Democrat and incumbent U.S. Rep John Spratt. Spratt had appeared to be a fixture in South Carolina politics. He’d been first elected to Congress in 1982, and had only really been challenged twice during before the 2010 campaign.
But, Mulvaney won in 2010 by 55 percent to 45 percent, essentially a landslide, and hasn’t been seriously challenged since.
Fowler said everyone was aware that Person was facing a very difficult race.
“Did we want him to win? Of course we did, and we had some hope that he would, but it was always going to be a big upset if he did,” Fowler said. “South Carolina Democrats are realistic. Person is a very bright guy. He’s likeable. He connects with people. He will be a person to be reckoned with for a long time to come. This was his introduction.”
Scott H. Huffmon, political scientist and founder and director of the Social & Behavioral Research Laboratory at Winthrop University, said that calling the race the closest among the South Carolina House congressional contests is a bit like arguing about which county is closest to China. But Person was good enough on the stump and able enough to raise money, to give Democrats hope for the future.
“But you can’t blame the loss on Person,” he said. “He ran a very good campaign. I did not see this as a flappable district. The fact that it looked and felt a bit like a contest is down to him. I believe South Carolina Democrats think they’ve found somebody.”
South Carolina congressional results
Mark Sanford (R) 62
Dimitri Cherny (D) 33
Michael Grier Jr (LIB) 3
Albert Travison (AMC)1
Joe Wilson (R) 63
Arik Bjorn (D) 33
Eddie McCain (AMR) 3
Jeff Duncan (R) 73
Hosea Cleveland (D) 27
Trey Gowdy (R)
Chris Fedalei (D)
Michael Chandler (CON)
Mick Mulvaney (R) 55
Fran Person (D) 43
Rudy Barnes Jr (AMR) 2
Jim Clyburn (D) 67
Laura Sterling (R) 31
Prince Charles Mallory (GRN) 1
Rich Piotrowski (LIB) 1
Tom Rice (R) 52
Mal Hyman (D) 48
Tim Scott (R) 61
Thomas Dixon (D) 36
Rebel Michael Scarborough (AMR) 1
Bill Bledsoe (LIB) 2
18 of 46 counties at least partially reporting and 10 fully reporting.