If you didn’t know there’s a special election on Tuesday between Republican Ralph Norman and Democrat Archie Parnell for South Carolina’s 5th congressional district seat, it’s not your fault.
The political world has turned its fickle gaze mostly toward Georgia’s 6th special election, where candidates Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel are neck-and-neck in the polls. Ossoff, a Democrat and 30-year-old political newcomer, is attempting to turn the district blue for the first time in decades. If he pulls it off—or just comes close—expect a whole lot of think pieces about how the GOP is doomed in 2018.
Despite the singular focus on the Georgia 6th race, the election for South Carolina’s 5th is just as much a barometer of the partisan mood under President Donald Trump as its neighbor to the southwest. And even if your only interest in politics is House of Cards, there’s something here for you, too: South Carolina’s 5th is Frank Underwood’s district.
With polls set to close at 7pm ET, here’s a breakdown of the race between Norman and Parnell, the big things to watch for, and live election results as they come in, thanks to the tally wizards at Decision Desk HQ. (Note: Some browsers may need to refresh the page for the latest results to appear.)
South Carolina’s 5th special election: Live results
Update 9:15pm ET: Norman wins by a thin margin—far thinner than anyone expected.
Why is there a special election happening in the middle of June?
Norman and Parnell are competing for the seat previously held by Mick Mulvaney, who vacated the seat early this year to serve as President Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Why do people care?
There’s that whole House of Cards tie-in, which is fun. But that’s not really important. What is important is what this race means for the 2018 midterms.
South Carolina’s 5th district has transformed into a Republican stronghold in recent years. While former President Bill Clinton lost the district by just one point in 1996, the district gave Trump a 19-point victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. That said, a Democrat, former Rep. John Spratt, held the seat for over three decades until his ouster in 2010. Mulvaney firmly held the seat until he joined Trump’s cabinet this year.
The fact that Parnell is even within striking distance of Norman shows that Democrats’ chances of picking up the 24 seats they need to take the House in the 2018 midterms may be better than people realize.
The question of the night is, will Parnell whittle down Norman’s lead to less than Trump’s 19-point victory over Clinton?
Who is Ralph Norman?
A former South Carolina state representative and real estate developer, 64-year-old Norman is a conservative Christian in the vein of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He beat a more moderate Republican challenger, South Carolina state Rep. Tommy Pope, in the May 16 runoff election by just 203 votes.
Norman has campaigned on some standard contemporary GOP platforms, including reducing Social Security benefits, tax cuts, repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and building a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Like Trump, Norman is offering South Carolina votes a “business approach” to government.
Who is Archie Parnell?
If there’s one thing Parnell knows, it’s taxes. During the 1970s, Parnell served as a tax attorney for the United States Department of Justice and, later, the Ways and Means Committee (which is in charge of crafting tax policy in the House). Parnell, 66, later moved into the private sector, where he worked for as a tax attorney for ExxonMobil and other corporations before joining Goldman Sachs in 1996. He left the Wall Street giant in January to run for Congress.
As you may have guessed from his resumé, Parnell has a private fortune estimated to be “in the millions,” Politico reported. This has helped him make up the fundraising gap between him and Norman, who raised $1.25 million to Parnell’s $755,000, according to Open Secrets.
Parnell campaigned on strengthening—not replacing—Obamacare, improving infrastructure, ensuring abortion rights for women, investing in renewable energy sources, and using his tax expertise to improve the U.S. tax code for his potential constituents. The son of a World War II vet, Parnell has also made improving care for veterans a personal priority.
On top of all that, he’s also tapped into the House of Cards motif with a cheeky campaign ad mimicking the Netflix show.
Is anyone else on the ballot?
Yes—quite a few people actually. They include Libertarian candidate Victor Kocher, Green Party candidate David Kulma, and American Party candidate Josh Thornton. Voters may also write in their own choice.
Although none of the third-party candidates are expected to draw a large vote, the tiniest difference could have a huge impact. South Carolina’s election rules dictate that less than a one percentage point difference between the top two candidates would trigger an automatic recount.
Who’s expected to win?
Norman is the clear favorite. While the polls show him leading Parnell by between 19 and nine points, an internal Democratic poll put him ahead of his Democratic challenger by 10 points.
While a 10-point victory would be seen as a blowout in some races, that’s nearly half the margin by which Trump beat Clinton in 2016. If that poll is accurate, expect Democrats to declare another non-win “victory” in South Carolina’s 5th.
What’s the wild card?
There may not be one in this race. South Carolina’s 5th doesn’t have major urban centers where anti-Trump sentiment may be higher. The only question may be whether turnout among younger voters, as we saw in the recent election in the United Kingdom, shifts the needle in Parnell’s favor.
When and what to watch
Polls close at 7pm ET, and results should start to come in soon after that. There are a total of 359 precincts in South Carolina’s 5th, which sits right between the more urban areas of Columbia and Charlotte, North Carolina. You can watch live results as they come in below: