Mace faces primary threat over McCarthy ouster

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) is facing the threat of a primary challenge after her vote to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker.

Mace joined a handful of GOP members led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in voting to remove McCarthy from his leadership post on Tuesday. While some of those votes were expected, the South Carolina Republican’s vote was seen as a surprise.

Now her vote is raising questions about potential consequences from the fallout of the Speakership drama, including how it could impact her reelection bid in 2024.

“One could see a primary challenge coming at her because of her vote to throw the House of Representatives into chaos,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.

At least one Republican has already opened the door to a potential challenge — former state Rep. Katie Arrington (R), who ran against Mace with Trump’s endorsement in 2022.

Arrington told The Hill that “all options are on the table” regarding another primary challenge. She called Mace’s vote to oust McCarthy a “political stunt” and suggested the congresswoman’s move was to get more press exposure.

“If not me, there will be many others,” Arrington said.

But other Republicans are skeptical that Mace is any real political danger. The South Carolina congresswoman has steadily built a national profile since first being elected to the House in 2020 and batted away Arrington’s primary bid in 2022, winning by 8 points.

“I haven’t heard of any credible primary threats to Congresswoman Mace. I don’t anticipate any of them will arise,” said South Carolina-based Republican strategist Rob Godfrey. “And hopefully any sort of alleged threats that have come her way are nothing more than a lot of people talking and not taking any action, because as I said, no one deserves to feel threatened over a vote they cast.”

Mace, who touts her bio as a former Waffle House waitress and first female graduate from The Citadel, first entered Congress after narrowly beating Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) in the Lowcountry House seat of South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Since then, she has sought to cultivate an image as a lawmaker not afraid to buck her own party, even drawing the ire of former President Trump when she said the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack meant that Trump’s “entire legacy was wiped out.”

Mace has been outspoken on other issues too, such as abortion. “Some of the stances we’ve taken, especially when it comes to rape and incest and protecting the life of the mother, it’s so extreme,” she said in the wake of the 2022 midterms. She introduced legislation earlier this year that would push to have over-the-counter contraceptives applications given priority review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Gun violence became another issue Mace diverged from her colleagues on when she said there “are plenty of things that we could be doing besides offering prayers and silence.” She introduced legislation last month that would “seek to eliminate gaps in the integrated public alert and warning system,” according to the bill.

“I often joke that I live on an island back home, and I feel like I’m on an island — it’s very lonely,” Mace told The Hill in an interview in May. “I would say this experience in stepping out and not toeing the party line is a very — it’s a very lonely experience in the environment that we’re in today.”

Now, Mace’s decision to vote for ousting McCarthy has thrust her back into the spotlight. 

The congresswoman defended her surprise vote after the fact, writing in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: “The Speaker has not lived up to his word on how the House would operate. No budget, no separate spending bills until it was too late, a CR which takes spending power out of the hands of the people and puts all the power into the hands of a select few.” 

“There has also been no action on many issues we care about and were promised. We were promised we would move on women’s issues and legislation to keep our communities safe. Those things never happened,” she added.

But in a nod to the impact her vote could have on fundraising ahead of 2024 — the McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund noted in 2020 that it had spent over $4.2 million to support her campaign — she has taken to X and media interviews to ask for help from donors.

“Hey everyone, Nancy Mace here. Yesterday was crazy wild. I got a lot of calls of support, but I also got a lot of threats from the D.C. establishment who say I’m done,” she said in a selfie-style video she posted on X. “They’re trying to kick me off of committees, kick me out of the conference and recruit a candidate to run against me in the Republican primary next year all because I wouldn’t fall in line with the establishment.”

Mace’s seat, which leans Republican and has flipped between the parties over the last few cycles, will be closely watched in 2024. The nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report rates the seat “likely Republican.”

Dave Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist in the Palmetto State, said that while there’s always the potential for an incumbent to get primaried, Mace was likely safe for now. He noted that the congresswoman’s justification for ousting McCarthy could appeal to voters in the purple district.

“When you look at the voting base there, they’re not your typical party-line Republican. They’re a little bit more independent in the way that they think,” he said. “And so I think Nancy Mace voted with her constituency, or at least, can convince her constituency that she voted in the way that they should have or would have voted on this issue.”

But Bonjean, a former House leadership aide, noted the potential peril of Mace’s move.

“Usually, moderate members communicate with the leadership well in advance to say … ‘This one, I got to do for my district, I can’t take one for the team in this case’, and that type of communication’s really healthy. And that’s what normally happens. In this case, clearly there’s no communication,” Bonjean said. “This is the equivalent of just pressing a … thermonuclear button.”

And some Republicans are warning not to wave off the possibility of a serious primary challenge just yet.

“I think her vote helps her ward off a challenge from the right but might encourage a challenge from the middle in a district that is trending purple, especially when we see who ends up becoming Speaker,” Chip Felkel, a South Carolina-based GOP strategist, said in an email. 

“If she is part of the group that initiated a coup, that leads to weeks of civil war, and creates more concerns over the GOP chances in 2024, it might prove damaging but certainly not yet,” he added.

Tags Katie Arrington Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Matt Gaetz Nancy Mace Nancy Mace