Trump Favorite Nancy Mace Faces McCarthy-Backed Challenger in South Carolina GOP Primary

‘The SC 1 primary is mostly about style rather than substance,’ one analyst tells the Sun. ‘Both Mace and Templeton are very conservative across most issues.’

Kevin McCarthy, left, and Congresswoman Nancy Mace. AP

Speaker McCarthy’s revenge tour is coming to Congresswoman Nancy Mace’s district Tuesday in South Carolina’s House primaries, where Ms. Mace is facing off against a McCarthy-backed challenger, Catherine Templeton.

Ms. Mace’s race has been the most closely watched of the challenges launched against the House Republicans who voted to remove Mr. McCarthy from the speakership last year. Mr. McCarthy is also backing challengers to Congressmen Bob Good of Virginia and Eli Crane of Arizona.

Though Mr. McCarthy supported Ms. Mace in 2022 — despite her post-January 6 criticism of President Trump — he leveled personal attacks against her in February, saying that he hopes she “gets the help to straighten out her life.”

Ms. Mace responded by calling Mr. McCarthy a “loser” who “lied to the American people” and accused her opponent of being his “puppet.”

While the feud between Ms. Mace and Mr. McCarthy has elevated the race in the national press, the race for the Republican nomination in South Carolina’s First Congressional District has also garnered attention because of Ms. Mace’s singular political style and her vocal criticism of Mr. McCarthy.

“The SC 1 primary is mostly about style rather than substance,” a political scientist at Furman University, Danielle Vinson, tells the Sun. “Both Mace and Templeton are very conservative across most issues.”

Ms. Vinson used Ms. Mace’s post-January 6 criticism of Trump and subsequent reversal as an example of one of the issues she thinks is at the center of the race — Ms. Mace’s unpredictability.

“She’s made some interesting shifts over the last couple of years that have left some in the district thinking she’s unpredictable,” Ms. Vinson said. “It’s one thing to be independent, but unpredictable makes voters nervous sometimes.”

Ms. Vinson added that Ms. Mace’s anti-McCarthy rhetoric adds to the perception of unpredictability, saying that the stance appeared to “come out of the blue.”

Another instance of this unpredictability came Monday, when Slate reported that Ms. Mace mocked Republican voters who she thought did not understand her scarlet letter stunt.

After voting to oust Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Mace wore a t-shirt with a scarlet letter on it, referencing “The Scarlet Letter.” Reportedly, she  complained to her staff that some voters didn’t get the reference, saying that they weren’t very smart and were probably Trump voters.

The report came the same day Trump decided to reiterate his endorsement for Ms. Mace, calling it his “great honor,” in a Truth Social post.

“Nancy Mace worked hard campaigning across South Carolina in support of our Record-Breaking WIN,” Trump said. “Congresswoman Nancy Mace has my Complete and Total Endorsement.”

The race has attracted significant outside spending for a Republican House primary, with out-of-district groups spending more than $8 million. 

The bulk of this spending, $3.9 million, is coming from the South Carolina Patriots PAC, a group opposed to Ms. Mace which is partially funded by the McCarthy-friendly American Prosperity Alliance.

In terms of actual campaign funds, however, Ms. Mace enjoys a distinct advantage over Ms. Templeton, raising around four times as much money as the challenger.

In the polls, Ms. Mace appears to be leading Ms. Templeton significantly. A May 21 Emerson College Surgery had Ms. Mace leading Ms. Templeton 47 percent to 22 percent, and an earlier Kaplan Strategies survey had similar results.

Both surveys, however, reported that a significant portion of the electorate was still undecided and Ms. Mace was polling below 50 percent support, suggesting that, though unlikely, there may be a majority opposed to Ms. Mace’s re-election.

Potentially working in Ms. Mace’s favor is Trump’s endorsement of the congresswoman, which saw the former president call her a “strong conservative voice.”

While Ms. Templeton has also hewed to Trump, the endorsement may not carry as much weight as in other districts because Ms. Mace defeated a Trump-backed challenger in 2022 when the former president attempted to drive any voices who had been critical of January 6 from the party.

The Trump endorsement also stands out in the First District because that was one place where Governor Haley won more support than Trump in the GOP primary, suggesting that GOP voters there might be open to something different than the current Republican political milieu.

“The First District is not one that really craves a performative member,” Ms. Vinson says. “They just want a reliable conservative.”

In terms of policy positions, there is little room between the two. Ms. Mace has staked out more detailed positions on issues like abortion and gun rights, but that might be more of a product of her political experience than anything else.

Overshadowing any policy debates are the personalities and drama of the two women seeking the office. Ms. Mace is known, beyond being a bomb thrower, for her attention-grabbing style.

Ms. Mace has also been in the headlines for her feuds with former staffers and the leaks that have come out of those staffers, like when one former staffer told the Daily Mail that she would frequently discuss her sex life at work.

Ms. Templeton, however, has her own family drama stemming from the arrest of her son, Hampton Templeton, who was working on his mom’s campaign when he was arrested.

Allegedly, Mr. Templeton started a fight that resulted in a man being beaten until he was taken to the hospital and suffering from seizures. 

Though Ms. Mace’s campaign hasn’t moved to make hay from Mr. Templeton’s arrest, the incident has received some attention in the South Carolina press.

The New York Sun

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