In the end it was closer than expected. But in politics a win is a win. And last night Republican, Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell in a special election for South Carolina's 5th Congressional District.
There were nearly 88,000 ballots cast last night. The margin of victory was 2,836 votes.
REPUBLICAN RALPH NORMAN
South Carolina's 5th Congressional District is known for having a deep red political hue. Donald Trump won this district by 20 points. And Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney matched that number.
But this special election was called when President Trump tapped Mulvaney to be White House budget director.
So, last night, when Ralph Norman supporters started to gather at a clubhouse in a tony housing development Norman's father built, they were optimistic to say the least. Take Ron Hoover. "I like (Norman's) business background. What I think he's going to do is help balance the budget. And he supports Donald Trump."
And President Trump was a pivotal figure in this race.
On the campaign trail Ralph Norman was fond of saying if you like Trump, you'll love me. His Democratic opponent, Archie Parnell took a more checks and balances approach. Erin Mosley always saw running against Trump as a losing strategy. "To be honest, it's just typical Democrat tactics of them thinking it’s a negative and it ends up blowing up in their face." Mosley, who is the chair of the Chester County Republican Party added this about the Democrats, "They've made themselves irrelevant especially in this district."
But confidence can turn to worry when the numbers start to roll in.
And the early returns caused this crowd of Republicans to start scratching their heads. Then a wave of furrowed brows, as Norman supporters stared at smart phones. The early vote tallies showing the Democrat ahead. Just.
That lasted for more than an hour.
But then, as more York County precincts began reporting, Norman jumped into the lead. Eventually, someone in the crowd announced the New York Times had called the race for the Republican. Cheers followed.
With that, a campaign staffer quickly went to a laptop near the podium and hit play. The crowd stood as Eye of the Tiger rang out through the hall. With smart phones in hand, they waited to record this moment. "Your next Congressman Ralph Norman!"
Norman then worked his way through the crowd before he reached the podium. His first words were, "All I can say is, 'Wow.'"
When he got into the heart of his victory speech, he thanked supporters, donors, volunteers and the president.
"I want to thank him for the executive orders that he has produced that take government and regulations off the back of small business. I want to say thank you to President Trump for restoring the honor, the dignity for our brave police officers all over this country."
And every thank you offered to the president caused 26-year-old Chad Hatmaker to nod his head in agreement and clap.
Hatmaker describes himself as a lifelong conservative. Proudly wearing a Trump 2016 baseball hat, he says there's just one thing the president needs. "Time. Trust what he stood for when he said he was going to make America great again."
And having a newly elected Republican in the House of Representatives, that helps too.
DEMOCRAT ARCHIE PARNELL
Coming within three points of victory in what’s considered a safe Republican district doesn’t cut it for Democrat Archie Parnell.
“I’m disappointed," he said. "I went precinct to precinct, I truly thought talking with those people in the
polls that we were going to win.”
Optimistic supporters filled a restaurant on the main drag in Sumter, which is Parnell’s hometown. While disappointed Parnell isn’t headed to Washington D.C., some supporters felt a sense of moral victory. After all, this is the district that former Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney won in the fall by 20 points. Parnell told his supporters to stay involved.
“It doesn’t stop here tonight," Parnell said. "The election may be over but the movement lives on. Because we the people are better than bickering and backbiting we see on the news every day."
The message was clearly aimed at President Trump. That sentiment is what inspired 32-year-old Sumter resident Taylor Nations to vote for Parnell.
“It’s definitely encouraged me to come out and vote," Nations said. "I haven’t voted in special elections in the past. So it drew me out and I certainly expect it has done the same for a number of other people."
Turnout was about 18 percent. For perspective, last November it was 68 percent across the state. Many supporters encouraged Parnell to run again in 2018, but he wasn’t ready to make that promise.
"I think I might just drink a glass of wine and try and get a good night’s sleep," he said. "I’m not thinking about that right now."