South Carolina's Mace gets boost from McCarthy, Gabbard

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina is getting a boost from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other political figures in the closing week before the midterm elections as she seeks a second term representing her fast-growing district.

On Wednesday, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, the Cuban American politician who currently serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, will appear with Mace at an event in Mount Pleasant, near Charleston, Mace’s campaign told The Associated Press.

A day later, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who represented Hawaii as a Democrat but recently announced she was leaving the party, is holding a campaign rally with Mace at a restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

On Saturday, McCarthy, R-Calif., will stump for Mace at a downtown Charleston fundraiser expected to bring in $100,000, according to her campaign.

“These leaders represent a broad spectrum of voters — Republican, Democrat and Independent — and they’re here to help remind Lowcountry voters Nancy Mace is an independent voice for them in Washington," Mace’s campaign manager, Austin McCubbin, told the AP on Monday.

The appearances come as Mace prepares to face off with Democrat Annie Andrews, a Charleston-area pediatrician who has portrayed Mace as too soft on gun safety, casting herself as an advocate for children.

Mace has campaigned on bipartisan legislation during her first term but has also aimed to counter Andrews' child advocacy by accusing the doctor of “child abuse” for allegedly supporting gender-affirming surgeries on minors. In their only debate, Andrews responded by saying she doesn't support such surgeries for children but does back “evidenced-based medical care, with parental consent, for teens struggling with gender identity issues.”

The 1st District, which stretches along much of South Carolina's southern coast, is the only one among South Carolina's seven House districts with a recent history of changing hands. In 2018, Democrat Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat in decades to flip any of the state's seats from red to blue, although he lost the seat to Mace two years later.

But for this year's election, the lines have been redrawn, a reconfiguration that may have made the area more likely to rest in GOP control than in elections past. It's also been listed as among the top 10 fastest-growing districts in the country, with population shifts playing a role in the area's political makeup.

Mace fended off an intense primary challenge from Katie Arrington, a former state House member with the backing of former President Donald Trump, who had solicited “any interest from good and SMART America First Republican Patriots” to run against a list of sitting House Republicans, including Mace.

Although Trump campaigned heavily against Mace during her primary, because of her criticism of him following the Jan. 6 insurrection, he ultimately congratulated Mace after her primary win.

McCarthy has been campaigning for GOP House candidates across the country as control of the chamber hangs in the midterm election balance. He was in South Carolina earlier this year to headline a fundraiser for the state Republican Party and endorsed Mace during her 2020 run, praising Mace's "tireless work ethic, conservative track record, and ability to get things done.”

Suarez, who won a nonpartisan reelection last year, is a registered Republican and recently floated the possibility of running for president in 2024, casting himself as unafraid to buck his party's establishment. Noting that he didn't vote for Trump in 2020, Suarez has also been critical of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis — whom he also didn't back in his 2018 campaign — pushing back against DeSantis' decision to prevent local communities from instituting mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabbard, who sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination before defecting from the party earlier this year, has been hitting the trail with a number of Republican candidates on the midterm ballot, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Michigan governor hopeful Tudor Dixon, Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt.

Early voting is underway in South Carolina and runs through Saturday.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press