Trump Casts Long Shadow in Key South Carolina Primaries

(CN) – As South Carolina voters headed to the polls Tuesday to vote in a several primary races, most of the anticipation was focused on who would prevail in a crowded field of gubernatorial candidates and whether Rep. Mark Sanford would be booted from office for failing to support President Donald Trump.

Sanford, a fiscal conservative, has often broken with Trump and other Republicans over legislation and policies he believes will needlessly increase the national debt. And during last year’s GOP bid to upend the Affordable Care Act, Sanford co-authored, with Sen. Rand Paul, a more conservative, cost-central alternative bill.

Sanford’s opponent in Tuesday’s primary, state Rep. Katie Arrington, has repeatedly told voters “it’s time for a conservative [in Congress] who will work with President Trump, not against him.”

And that message evidently caught the attention of the president, who on Tuesday afternoon took to twitter to urge South Carolina’s Republicans to dump Sanford  — the first time the president has endorsed an opponent over an incumbent of his adopted party.

“Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA,” Trump tweeted. “He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina. I fully endorse Katie Arrington for Congress in SC, a state I love. She is tough on crime and will continue our fight to lower taxes. VOTE Katie!”

The mention of Argentina was a reference to the congressman’s longtime Argentine girlfriend María Belén Chapur. It was Sanford’s relationship with Chapur that ended his political career and appeared, temporarily, to end his political career.

A poll published last Thursday by Momentum National, a political consultancy based in Newberry, South Carolina,  had 39.7 percent of voters saying they would support Sanford and 39 percent saying they’d instead opt for Arrington. The poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Incumbent Republican Governor Henry McMaster, a staunch Trump supporter who succeeded Nikki Haley after she was  appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is facing four challengers in the Republican primary.

Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant, a former state senator, is challenging McMaster, as are former Lt. Governor Yancy McGill, Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton, and Greenville businessman John Warren.

On the Democratic side the front-runner, representative for the state’s 72nd congressional district James Smith, is facing Greenville businessman Phil Noble and anti-trust attorney Marguerite Willis.

Another contest of note is the race to replace Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is not seeking reelection. Thirteen Republicans are running for the seat, as are five Democrats. Due to the large number of candidates in the respective party primaries, the race is expected to advance to a runoff on June 26.

Republican candidates include Shannon Pierce, Lee Bright, John Marshall Mosser, Mark Burns, Dan Albert, Barry Bell, Stephen B. Brown, William Timmons, Dan Hamilton, Justin David Sanders, Josh Kimbrell, James Epley and Claude Schmid.

Democrats running for the seat are JT Davis, Eric Graben, Lee Turner, Will Morin and Brandon Brown. The congressional district is located in the Republican-heavy Upstate region, and encompasses the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg.

In Charleston Tuesday morning, first time voter Bailey Winter, 18, said he was compelled to vote in the primary for a number of reasons, but his top priority is to support placing medical marijuana on the November ballot.

Regarding the congressional races he said, “The congressional races are also very important because the Democrats are trying to take back the Senate and House here in the mid-term.”

For 30-year-old Ciarra Huckaby, who said she always participates in primaries, the gubernatorial race is the most crucial issue on the ballot.

“We can actually vote someone in that will support tax cuts for businesses. Healthcare is also an important issue in South Carolina that we need to address,” Huckaby said.

Tim Gonyea, who recently relocated to South Carolina after retiring from the military, said he supports candidates who advocate for offshore drilling, support gun owners’ rights, and oppose any kind of extension or revision of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, also known as DACA.

“We also have major issues with traffic and infrastructure that need to be addressed,” Gonyea said

Lifelong Charleston resident Jim Etheredge said all of the races and issues on the ballot are equally important.

“We all need to get involved and stay involved. We should vote for good leadership and candidates who will take care of constituents. Access to healthcare and fair and open elections are important issues to me,” Etheredge said.

Another lifelong resident, George Brewer, said, “We have to stay the current course.  We need to elect officials who stand against evil. We need to put prayer back in schools and get rid of fake news.”

Robert Boessenecker who is a scientist that relocated to South Carolina from California, three years ago said he supports candidates with scientific backgrounds because he trusts scientists will not lie in order to sway public opinion.

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