Nancy Mace Defeats GOP Challenger, Deals Big Blow to McCarthy’s Revenge Tour

Rep. Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, defeated a well-funded primary challenger on Tuesday, putting her on track to win a third term. His resounding victory also dealt a blow to former President Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to demand political retaliation against those who voted to oust him.

MS. Mace, 46, who once focused on social issues, won a Democratic seat in 2020 and claimed that all of former President Donald J. Trump’s accomplishments were “wiped out” by his behavior on Jan. 1 . December 6, 2021. But she has taken a firm turn to the right over the past year as she tries to figure out her political future.

She was the most unlikely of eight rebel Republicans who voted to oust Mr McCarthy last year, transforming her from an ally into one of his main targets for revenge. Outside groups with ties to Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, have invested more than $4 million to support his opponent, Catherine Templeton, and attack Ms. Masse.

But in the end, Ms. Mace won comfortably: With almost all the votes Tuesday night, she led by 27 percentage points. And she said Mr. McCarthy’s efforts motivated her to work harder.

“I hope to embarrass him tonight,” she said earlier Tuesday during lunch at a Waffle House in Beaufort, between stops at polling places. “I want to send him back to the rock he’s living under right now. He is not part of America. He doesn’t know what hard-working Americans go through every day. I hope I drive Kevin McCarthy crazy.

A spokesman for Mr. McCarthy declined to comment, and Ms. Mace did not mention him by name in her victory speech Tuesday night.

MS. Mace, whose story as a former Waffle House waitress is an important part of her political biography, ordered her hash browns with confidence: scattered, diced, topped and peppered. Then she barely touched them.

She said in the interview that she had lost 30 pounds from her already slim figure since November, when she went through a difficult breakup with her fiancé. The same month, it overhauled its Washington office, where all of its senior staff were fired or resigned. Her former chief of staff, Dan Hanlon, at one point even filed paperwork to run against her, but he didn’t.

Many of these former staff members spent the following months anonymously spreading unflattering stories about Ms. Mace’s erratic behavior, including her speaking openly and inappropriately about her sex life in front of junior staff. Staff.

“I don’t talk about my sex life privately because it’s non-existent,” Mace said, dismissing all the embarrassing stories as “inside the Beltway BS” (she nevertheless admitted it was a rumor hard to deny after she made a ridiculous joke in public about her sex life, at a prayer breakfast hosted by Sen. Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina (she said her constituents didn’t care. not insinuations from an anonymous source.)

The campaign, she said, was a welcome distraction from her personal struggles.

MS. Mace, who is her own campaign manager, accused Mr. McCarthy of hurting the GOP in his quest for personal vengeance. “If he wants to be chief of staff, go take that money and spend it on Donald Trump in Michigan,” she said over lunch, referring to the idea that Mr. McCarthy would like to be Mr. .Trump’s White House chief of staff, if Mr. Trump wins in November. “He needs to stop dividing our party.”

She insisted she was not dividing the party when she voted to oust Mr McCarthy as speaker, but rather by accepting a tough, principled vote.

Yet his vote sparked a bitter primary battle. Shortly before Mrs. Mace’s arrival at Waffle House, a New York Times photographer observed a woman remove a row of Mace’s campaign signs from the lawn outside the restaurant, throw them into her car, and drive away. .

“It happens all the time,” Ms. Mace said when told about the incident.

MS. Mace has long gone back and forth as she tried to find a resting place for herself in today’s GOP. She seems to have decided that there wouldn’t be one if she didn’t mend her rift with Mr. Trump, so she became one of his loudest cheerleaders.

“I’m all in now,” Ms. Mace said Tuesday, when pressed that she had said in the past that she would not campaign for Mr. Trump if he became the party candidate. “A lot has changed – three and a half years of Joe Biden. I’m all about Trump.” She said President Biden’s re-election amounts to “elder abuse.”

MS. Mac endorsed Mr. Trump over Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor who two years ago stood by him when the former president called Ms. Mace became a “big loser” as he was supporting a far-right challenger seeking to unseat her. MS. Mace has also worked to win back Mr. Trump by constantly appearing on television programs he watches and lambasting the Justice Department for indicting him.

The moves earned her some eye rolls from her colleagues in Washington, but paid off politically at home: Mr. Trump vehemently endorsed her in the race, a show of critical support that also helped scare off some of the outside money that most likely would have gone to her opponent had she appeared more vulnerable. It also resonated with voters, even in a district that voted for Ms. Haley in the presidential primary.

“The fact that she was endorsed by President Trump was a defining decision for me,” said Richard Chelten, a Beaufort resident who said he voted for her earlier in the day. “I don’t even know who this Templeton guy is. I prefer to go with what I know.

Over the past two years, Ms. Mace’s tenure in Congress has been characterized by drama and confusing reversals, like the one she made on Mr. Trump. They won her some friends in Washington, a fact she wears with pride.

Rep. Joe Wilson, a longtime Republican from South Carolina, endorsed Ms. Templeton. MS. Mace said she confronted him about the endorsement on the House floor.

“I told him I would never do to him what he did to me,” she said.

But his actions translated better at home. Lynn Fontaine, southern regional director of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said Mace’s “vote against McCarthy was a redemptive moment for her.”

The high-profile race between Ms. Mace and Ms. Templeton amounted to little more than a proxy war between Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Mace, and there was little daylight between the two candidates on these issues.

But the competition went wrong. MS. Mac called Ms. Templeton, a former state government official, a “puppet” of the former president. MS. Templeton said Ms. Mace is “constantly doing flip-flops for fame.” And days before the primary, Ms. Templeton came forward with allegations that the congresswoman had sought excessive reimbursements from a taxpayer-funded program that allowed contractors to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred in Washington.

Since his ouster, Mr. McCarthy has done little to conceal his distinctive vitriol toward Ms. Masse. “I hope Nancy gets the help she needs — she really does,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters in February. “I just hope she gets some help to turn her life around. I mean, she has a lot of challenges.

MS. Mace said she had no regrets about her vote to oust Mr. McCarthy. But she admitted that when she voted last October, she had no idea how that would define it.

Chairman Mike Johnson, who has tried unsuccessfully to get his members to stop seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans, led a fundraiser for Ms. Masse in Washington. “She operates from an honorable and principled position,” she said.

MS. Mace is not expected to run in a competitive race in the November general election. His district is ranked solidly Republican by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

“If I win by the biggest margin I’ve ever won,” she said hours before the polls closed, “I won’t change anything at all.”

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