Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How Nancy Mace Defeated Trump-Endorsed Katie Arrington

U.S. Representative Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina) defeated her Trump-endorsed primary opponent former state representative Katie Arrington last night. This is not an unexpected result since Mace led every poll that was conducted in the race.

Mace had earned the ire of former President Donald Trump based on critical comments she had made of him after the January 6th riot. Mace then tried to get back into Trump’s good graces with no success.

Mace’s eight-point win over Arrington was not a great showing for an incumbent, albeit a bit of a mulligan can be given since Mace is in her first term.

So how did Nancy Mace beat back her opponent? Although Nancy Mace is no one’s idea of a perfect Congresswoman, she was enough of a fit for her district. Mace also had the support of the NRA, Club for Growth, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

But Katie Arrington was also a weak candidate. Mace successfully hit her on tax increases and losing her security clearance.

Arrington also had other issues as Elaine Godfrey at The Atlantic pointed out.

But Mace’s tightrope walk on Trump isn’t the only reason she was able to hang on to her seat. The first congressional district of South Carolina, which contains Charleston, is relatively moderate—more so than Rice’s district; Charleston County was one of the only two counties in the state that didn’t back Trump in the 2016 primary, and the Democrat Joe Cunningham won the district in 2018. Mace, as the incumbent, also had name-ID and institutional advantages. An even more significant factor, local strategists argue, is that Arrington, a former member of the South Carolina State House, was a weak candidate. Voters had already seen her lose a general election to Cunningham in 2018, and Mace’s campaign had twice as much cash on hand. Had Trump actually invested money in the race, Arrington potentially could have pulled it out, Tyler Jones, a Democratic strategist and an adviser for Cunningham, told me. “If he’d have spent $500,000 on a straight-to-camera ad and said, ‘Look, Katie’s a better candidate. Nancy Mace has let you down,’ that would have been really effective,” Jones said.

A Trump endorsement, while it’s nice to have, is not sufficient on its own for a candidate to win. Candidate quality matters and Katie Arrington failed the test.

Nancy Mace won because she was a relatively good fit for her district. She was also victorious because she faced a weak candidate.

Mace should be heavily favored in November against her Democratic opponent. But if she wants to avoid another relatively strong primary challenger, she needs to do a better job handling the concerns of her district.