The first round of the third House special election to replace a Trump administration appointee went off yesterday, without much national notice. The seat is South Carolina 5, which OMB Director Mick Mulvaney represented since he beat 32-year incumbent Democrat John Spratt, then Chairman of the House Budget Committee (a law school classmate of mine and a fine person).
The South Carolina Votes website has the numbers, while the New York Times website has its usual terrific graphics. This was just the first stage of a three-stage voting process. On May 16 there will be a runoff for the Republican nomination between Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman, who each received 30 percent of Republicans' votes. The winner of that contest will face Archie Parnell, who won the Democratic nomination with 71 percent of the votes, in what I guess we must call the special general (general special?) election June 20, the same day as the runoff down in Georgia 6.
But South Carolina 5 resembles Georgia 6 in only the most superficial way: Both are in the South and include portions of million-plus metro areas (Charlotte and Atlanta). The difference is that Georgia 6 has a very high-income, high-education electorate, many members of which defected in large numbers from its usual Republican allegiance to vote for Hillary Clinton (or, probably the motivation for many, to vote against Donald Trump). South Carolina 5 has a more mixed electorate, including some upscale folks in York County, just south of Charlotte; but it also includes some territory decidedly rural in appearance, though if you look around you'll spot the factories, warehouses and shops which account for most of the local jobs.
This is now a pretty solidly Republican district. It voted 55 to 43 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012 and 57 to 39 percent for Donald Trump in 2016. While Georgia 6 gave Hillary Clinton a much higher percentage that Barack Obama, South Carolina 5 gave her a significantly lower percentage. In South Carolina's early-in-the-process presidential primary, Donald Trump carried the district with 34 percent to 24 percent for Ted Cruz and 20 percent for Marco Rubio—not too far from the statewide averages.
In yesterday's voting, 68 percent of the votes were cast in the Republican primary and only 32 percent in the Democratic primary. If you take this as an index of party support, you might conclude that the Trump Republican Party is gaining support here, even as the close result in the first Georgia 6 contest, in which 51 percent of votes were cast for Republicans and 48 percent for Democrats, indicated a clear anti-Trump and anti-Republican trend as compared to pre-2016 contests.
But I think that interpretation isn't justified. South Carolina 5 had a serious contest in the virtually-tied Republican primary; the leading Democrat had no serious competition. Neither party or any ideological group was spending much money. It's widely assumed the Republicans will hold the seat and yesterday's numbers support that conclusion. So do credentials: the Democrat Parnell is an alumnus of Goldman Sachs, which suggests he's a smart guy, but maybe his background is not ideally in sync with the district's median voter. So I wouldn't regard the numbers here as useful index of the balance of opinion nationally or in demographically similar constituencies. The most one can infer is that Republicans don't face a downdraft in districts like South Carolina 5, as they do in districts like Georgia 6.