If Rep. Tom Rice hopes to win a renomination against Republican challenger Russell Fry, he needs a big turnout in Horry County, South Carolina — the population center of the sprawling 7th congressional district.
Not only is Rice from Horry (whose “h” is silent), he once served as Chairman of the County Council and is a prominent Myrtle Beach-area attorney and accountant.
But Fry, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is also from Horry — Surfside Beach, to be precise. Fry will be counting on pro-Trump voters throughout the district, which stretches inland through the Pee Dee region and to the North Carolina border. However, if he can break into Rice’s Horry County base, it could be a disappointing night for the incumbent.
Voters outside a polling station in Conway, home of Horry County, provided an uncertain barometer of Rice’s chances. Speaking to CNN under the broad canopy of a live oak tree on the Conway Library grounds, some said they pulled the lever for Rice despite, or even because of, his vote to impeach Trump.
“I think it’s important that he has seniority up there,” said Sean Kobos, noting that Rice would have a prominent seat on the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans regained the majority. “I think we have to think about the district.”
Kobos said he disagreed with Trump impeachment but dismissed Trump’s efforts to oust Rice. “I think it’s just vindictive,” he said.
A Conway woman who declined to give her name because of her job said she and her husband both voted for Rice to stave off Republican hostility over the impeachment vote.
“I don’t think he should be punished for that,” she said.
That was the view of Richard Lovelace, a regular Democratic voter who voted for Rice in the open primary.
“He’s the opposite of my political paradigm, but he opposed Trump,” Lovelace said. “He didn’t back down in the face of the hurricane.”
Lovelace said Rice’s reputation in the community should help him despite Trump’s anger. And he even predicted that GOP voters would turn their backs on the former president.
“I’m beginning to see some erosion of support for Trump among my staunch Republican friends,” Lovelace said.
But that wasn’t the view of several other voters in Conway who spoke to CNN. Tim Roper, who left the library to find his correct polling place, said Rice abandoned his “good intentions” after he was in office.
“He voted to impeach Trump,” Roper said. “He’s not a true Republican anymore.”
Roper said he didn’t know who he would support in the crowded field, but others said they threw themselves behind Fry after Trump backed him.
“Trump’s support has changed the numbers, especially among the people who stood on the fence,” said Charlie Parrish, who voted for Fry. Like Rice, Parrish is an attorney, and he said the impeachment vote was not constitutionally sound.
“I like Tom Rice. I know him personally,” Parrish said. “He’s not doing what the law says. He goes by what Tom says.”
In addition to Fry, other Republicans are also vying for the nomination. Though unlikely to win, their presence could keep the top two candidates below 50% and force a runoff in two weeks. Lindsey Hilbourn told CNN he voted for Spencer Morris, a Georgetown County pharmacist and small business owner.
“I saw the debate on TV and he impressed me,” Hilbourn said. When asked who he would support in a runoff between Rice and Fry, Hilbourn said he would go with Fry.
“I was on the Trump train,” he said. “When [Rice] voted for impeachment, it kind of made me mad at him.”
Dean and Melissa Thompson said they voted for Ken Richardson, a member of the Horry County school board. The couple said they would not vote for either Rice or Fry.
“They’re both bought and paid for by the Chamber of Commerce,” Melissa Thompson said.
But in the event of a runoff between those candidates, the couple said they would likely annul their votes. Melissa Thompson said she had to vote for Fry because Congress needed “fresh blood” and she was always trying to vote against incumbents.
Her husband, Dean Thompson, said he opposed Rice’s impeachment vote but would support him in a runoff.
“That’s the only thing he did wrong,” he said.
Read more about the South Carolina races here.
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