By Hastings Wyman –
Trey Gowdy (R) has served in the US House since 2011. He currently serves as chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Gowdy has been a forceful, independent voice in the House, grilling Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi deaths and supporting allowing Robert Mueller to complete his Russia investigation.
Given the likelihood that Gowdy’s successor will be a Republican, some 16 Republicans have filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for this open seat; nine of them have raised at least some funds, as of March 31. “Chip” Felkel, a public policy consultant based in Greenville, describes the field of Republican candidates as “a collection of the different tribes within the party.”
The primary will be on June 12; if no one receives a majority – as is unlikely with so many candidates – the runoff will be on June 26. The 4th District consists of Greenville and Spartanburg Counties and is a solidly Republican district.
“The big difference between the top tier and the bottom tier is fundraising,” says Greenville County Republican Chairman Nate Leupp, citing William Timmons, Josh Kimbrel, Dan Hamilton and Lee Bright, in that order.
State Sen. William Timmons, an attorney and businessman, defeated an incumbent in the 2016 primary. He borrowed $540,000 for this campaign. US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who Timmons supported for the GOP nomination in 2016, endorsed him last week. In thanking Rubio, Timmons said, “Marco, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott really represent the future of the national Republican Party.” Timmons may catch some flak over his involvement in a heated controversy over the sale of the Greenville Health System to a Columbia insurance company, which may have knocked Timmons out of first place. Timmons has personal wealth and is spending heavily on TV ads.
Josh Kimbrell, 33, is the former chairman of the Spartanburg County Republican Party, a radio talk show host for 10 years, and the owner of FX Aviation, a Greenville-based business. His talk show, which discussed state and national
issues, aired five days a week. Kimbrell may or may not be hurt by a former divorce legal battle, in which his ex-wife accused him of molesting their children. The case was later dropped, but Kimbrell told a local news program that several of his opponents have begun a whispering campaign against him. Of interest: Timmons was one of the attorneys representing the prosecutor’s side in the case.
State Rep. Dan Hamilton is in his fourth term in the legislature, where he serves as Deputy Majority Whip and was elected Chairman of the Upstate Caucus. He founded a real estate firm in Greenville, now one of the largest in the state. Hamilton is a graduate of Bob Jones University and has been active in a wide range of religious, civic and business activities. “He’s the favorite of a lot of folks,” says Felkel.
Former two-term state Sen. Lee Bright, 48, is a staunch social conservative who made waves in the legislature with his fierce opposition to removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds and for introducing a bill that would require transgendered persons to use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificate. He is a long-time resident of Spartanburg and has been active in church and religious-related activities, including serving on the board of the Palmetto Family council and the Southeastern Baptist Seminary. US Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) have endorsed him. Bright is on the far right fringe of the GOP, says Felkel. “He got voted out of his state senate seat two years ago, but he’s got a base of support and he may get in the runoff.”
Steve Brown is a former chairman of the Greenville County Republican Party. While he has yet to show a flush war chest, “He is well-connected to the grassroots” in the Greenville GOP, says Leupp. He adds, “Greenville voters are likely to support Greenville candidates and Spartanburg voters are inclined to vote for Spartanburg candidates. This will be a factor.”
Shannon Pierce is a nurse who built a successful health care company from scratch, raising the investment capital herself. She is a graduate of Clemson and paid her own way through. She has the ability to invest substantially in her own campaign. “She’s very, very intelligent… It’s nice to have a female in the race,” says Leupp. Pierce is trying to appeal to female voters. But she is a first-time candidate with little name recognition and must “develop name ID in a short window, a disadvantage,” says Felkel. Pierce has been married for 25 years and has two grown sons.
Mark Burns, the only African American in the race, is close to President Trump and was reportedly a recent guest at Mar-a-Lago.
James Epley was Upstate field representative for Trump’s campaign in 2016 and while he did not raise any money in the 1st Quarter, he has strong contacts among Trump supporters in the district. However, he does not live in the 4th District, a political, though not a legal, obstacle.
Concludes Leupp, “I usually have a good sense of how these races will turn out, but in this race, you may see two, three or four candidates within a few points of each other.”
In a poll taken for GOPAC Election Fund in late April, Bright led with 13%, followed by Kimbrell with 7% and Hamilton and Timmons with 5% each. The other nine candidates had 2% or lower; 63% were undecided.
The top seven Republican fundraisers, according to their cash-on-hand as of March 31, were:
There are six Democrats running. Eric Graben, who has been endorsed by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), a two-time Democratic gubernatorial nominee, had the most cash-on-hand, with $51,000. Until the Republican nominee has been chosen in a potentially contentious and divisive primary, it is premature to speculate on the Democrats’ prospects in this heavily Republican district. Stay tuned.