EXCLUSIVE — Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) is poised to defend his decadeslong record in a primary election runoff for South Carolina's Myrtle Beach-anchored 7th Congressional District, according to an internal poll.
Rice, a fifth-term incumbent who supported former President Donald Trump's second impeachment, trails Trump-endorsed South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry before the pair's June 14 primary. The internal Fry poll found 39% of respondents backed the challenger, as opposed to the 23% who remained loyal to Rice. Other candidates, including South Carolina school board Chairman Emeritus Ken Richardson, attracted less than 10%. Another 18% were undecided.
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The poll, surveying 500 likely Republican voters May 7-10, also found Fry would prevail over Rice in a hypothetical runoff, 55% to 25%. Another 21% were undecided.
Trump continues to be popular in the district, with 65% of respondents telling pollsters they had a "very favorable" opinion of the former president. In comparison, 28% felt similarly regarding Fry and 17% concerning Rice.
In a memo shared with donors, Fry's campaign manager Phillip Habib braced his boss for a barrage of negative advertisements based on his opponent's campaign chest and potential to outspend him "3-1." Rice had almost $2 million cash on hand, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission filing.
In one Rice ad that debuted last week, the congressman accuses Fry of contributing to higher taxes and gas prices.
"Is Russell Fry conservative? Nope. Russell Fry is Russell fraud," the narrator says. "He's a tax and spender."
In his memo, Habib additionally alluded to Rice's Democratic overtures, speculated to help him notch more than 50% of the vote and avoid a runoff.
"We need to highlight Rice’s 'recruit the Democrats' strategy at every opportunity," Habib wrote. "This strategy becoming well-known would be the final death-knell to Rice’s campaign. Republican voters won’t tolerate such a thing."
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The May internal poll echoes a March survey. Both studies had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.