Coastal South Carolina will be among the next political battlegrounds testing the strength of former President Donald Trump's endorsement in contested Republican primaries.

Rep. Nancy Mace is in a heated reelection bid for a second, two-year House term against GOP rival Katie Arrington. They're vying to represent Charleston and much of the Palmetto State's coastline. The district leans Republican, meaning that in an already strong GOP year, the primary winner is likely to nab the seat in November.

Trump has endorsed Arrington, seemingly not so much due to her political and policy virtues but due to sporadic criticism of the former president voiced by Mace.

The race will clarify Trump's influence in the district, according to Charles Bierbauer, a former CNN reporter now with the University of South Carolina. That is what Arrington, a former state lawmaker who deposed incumbent ex-governor and Trump critic Mark Sanford in the 2018 Republican primary, "seems to be counting on," Bierbauer said. One-term Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham defeated Arrington that fall, and Mace beat Cunningham two years later.


"On the other hand, Nancy Mace seeks to prove there’s more to getting elected than a Trump endorsement," Bierbauer told the Washington Examiner.

Yet Mace, also a former state representative, sought Trump's endorsement to supplement her establishment backing from ex-Gov. Nikki Haley, among others.

After Trump endorsed Arrington, who served as his Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment's chief information security officer until 2021 when her clearance was suspended over allegations she disclosed classified information and misused her position, Mace visited Trump Tower in New York. Mace worked on Trump's 2016 campaign and voted against impeachment. However, Mace criticized Trump over his lack of leadership during the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, when supporters of the outgoing chief executive tried to stop the Electoral College win of President Joe Biden.

“If you want to lose this seat once again in a midterm election cycle to Democrats, then my opponent is more than qualified to do just that," Mace said in February.

The primary is also a test of 1st Congressional District Republicans' willingness to forgive Arrington for losing the seat to a Democrat for the first time in almost four decades four years ago.

And although the primary's national implications are important, Bierbauer underscored the significance of local issues. As did former Rep. Bob Inglis who, similarly to Arrington, staged a comeback for his old upstate South Carolina congressional district in 2004 after a failed Senate bid in 1998.

Inglis has become a climate advocate since he himself was "primaried" out of office in 2010 by GOP rival Trey Gowdy. Inglis said he is focused on Arrington's past support of off-shore drilling.

"You apparently don't realize that travel and tourism is the No. 1 industry in South Carolina, and you apparently don't realize that sensitivity to the environment is one of the defining characteristics of that Low Country district," he said.

For Inglis, Arrington is under pressure to overcome her 2018 disappointment since "a proven loser and a proven winner" are running in the primary. He touted Mace's "battler" reputation, earned as a high school dropout Waffle House waitress who eventually became the Citadel Corps of Cadets program's first woman graduate. In doing so, he downplayed Arrington's recovery from a 2018 drunk driver wreck that left her with a fractured back, broken ribs, and a partial small intestine and colon.

Coastal Carolina University political science professor Drew Kurlowski, who awarded Mace the edge as well, additionally cited Mace's marijuana decriminalization bill as a policy fault line between her and Arrington.

"They're also some national groups that have been formed that have been putting at least five-figure ad buys in South Carolina against Mace because of her support and her sponsorship of the Republican federal decriminalization bill," he said.

But College of Charleston School of Humanities and Social Sciences dean Gibbs Knotts returned to Trump given the former president's enduring popularity in South Carolina.

At the same time, multiple factors are at play, according to Knotts. Arrington has demonstrated she can topple an incumbent and is unafraid to lob personal attacks. Yet her Trump connection may deter more educated voters in the wealthy, "extremely suburban" district, he said. Mace is simultaneously vulnerable because she has not locked up centrist Republicans despite her sitting member advantage.

"It's a little more Republican than it was before redistricting," Knotts added. "So, I feel like it's really, really tight right now."

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson predictably dismissed both Republican candidates as "Kooky Katie" and "Maniacal Mace," overlooking far-right Lynz Piper-Loomis as he elevated Democratic contender Annie Andrews.


"Just like Ohio, West Virginia, and Nebraska, we are waiting to see if Trump's endorsement matters," he said. "Mace has certainly proven to not be a friend of the Donald, and Kooky Katie can't form a singular thought without him, so we will see."