COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Launching what he considers his most difficult reelection fight to date, U.S. Rep. Tom Rice says that voters may disagree with his vote this year to impeach President Donald Trump, but he hopes that it won't be enough to overshadow his other accomplishments for South Carolina's 7th District.
“I know that I did the right thing, I’m happy with where I am, and I’ll take the consequences of it,” Rice told The Associated Press in an interview this week, ahead of his official campaign launch for a sixth term.
“Even maybe some of them that didn’t like my vote, I think they’ll appreciate my honesty and my effectiveness, and I can win them back over. But we’ll see.”
On Monday, Rice will take that argument directly to voters in all eight counties of the 7th District, which stretches across South Carolina's northeastern corner. With agricultural, industrial and commercial areas, its heart is Myrtle Beach, one of the focuses of the state's multibillion-dollar tourism industry and a burgeoning base for some of South Carolina's most conservative voters.
The framework of Rice's tough reelect was forged in January, when he was one of 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol. Trump was not convicted as a result of the Senate trial.
The vote came as a surprise, as the Myrtle Beach congressman had always been a consistent supporter of the former president, representing an area that voted heavily for Trump in both presidential elections. Long a reliable backer of Trump, who campaigned with him, Rice voted 94% of the time in favor of Trump-backed legislation, according to FiveThirtyEight — the highest percentage among South Carolina’s delegation at that time.
A day after his vote, Rice told AP “it hurts my heart” to have gone against the president, but he decided to back impeachment after seeing what he characterized as Trump’s inaction during the riot.
Since then, Republicans in his district and across the state have declared their displeasure with Rice, who has represented the 7th since its creation in 2012. The South Carolina GOP formally censured him to show disapproval over his vote, a step also taken by party committees across the country to punish many of the 10 House Republicans who supported Trump’s impeachment.
A dozen Republicans are seeking to challenge Rice in next summer’s GOP primary, according to federal election filings. Rice has led the pack in fundraising, bringing in more than $1.3 million. Another hopeful, veteran Graham Allen, has raised more than $750,000, Rice’s closest competitor in the money race.
Last weekend, Republicans gathered at two separate events in Myrtle Beach, one headlined by prominent Trump surrogates Diamond and Silk, and former GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik. A simultaneous gathering hosted by the state party featured notables including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, considered a rising GOP star.
Rice said he didn't attend either — nor was he invited.
“If we run on our ideas, and not on allegiance to one very polarizing man, I think we’ve got the winning message,” Rice said, of his hope for Republicans moving forward. “And if we don’t, I think we’re destined to fail. ... I hope we haven’t moved away from a party of ideas to a party of one man.”
Running on his record, Rice said he hopes voters will think of the district’s falling unemployment rates during his tenure, and its rising job numbers.
“My focus is on jobs and American competitiveness,” he said. “I’m real proud of what I got done. ... People can see the result, and I believe that will win the day.“
But for some, Rice said he knows it still comes down to the impeachment vote, and perhaps nothing else. But, he noted, while the issue has surfaced in many of the town halls he’s held over the past year, he felt that more voters had thanked him for taking a stand than castigated him for opposing Trump.
“For people to say that I’m not conservative because I voted to impeach Donald Trump, in fact that was a conservative vote,” Rice said. “The conservative wants to preserve our freedom and our rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution.”
On Friday, Rice told the AP that his argument to voters boiled down to hoping that they didn't put stock in the sole critique he said he's heard from his challengers.
“The only criticism of me and my performance that I hear from those folks is that I voted to impeach Donald Trump," he said. "And if that’s all they’ve got, that doesn’t seem like much — one vote, in 10 years.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press