The first female to ever graduate from The Citadel is gearing up to take down one of the most recognizable senators on Capitol Hill in the Republican primary. Why Nancy Mace is a woman to watch.
Nancy Mace is a rare type of candidate in that she’s a young woman with both military chops and tea party cred who is running for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina as a Republican. She’s the first woman to graduate from The Citadel and yet was also an ardent backer of libertarian Ron Paul for president in 2012.
The 35-year-old bills herself a “bulldog” stirring for the “no fail” mission ahead but also stresses that “common sense” is one of the most popular political positions of the day. At a time when the GOP is yearning for diversity, the fresh-faced, even-keeled Mace would be a recruiting catch. She may just be the tea party’s next generation Sarah Palin. Except for the fact that she’s trying to upend one of the most recognizable faces on Capitol Hill: second-term Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Mace said she embarked on the campaign because she doesn’t believe Graham is sufficiently conservative enough and thinks he’s become too immersed in the clubby Washington culture. That’s been a common refrain in Republican primaries the last two cycles and Mace is hoping to become the newest tea party-aligned candidate who crashes the gates and topples an incumbent. “In order to make the transformation possible, we must stick to our principles and refuse to capitulate to the progressives on the left and to the special interests,” Mace told attendees at her kick-off speech at a local GOP county breakfast. “When the establishment fights back, sometimes you have to dig deeper, because sometimes you just cannot afford to lose. And sometimes you are on a no-fail mission.”
The problem is Mace isn’t the only one signing on to this mission. There’s likely to be two other male opponents in the primary fighting Graham, creating a mathematically arduous scenario for knocking off a well-known incumbent sitting on more than $6 million. “It’s got to boil down to one. And I told Nancy this a few minutes ago—we’ve got to make a decision which one of these three is going to be the horse,” said Tony Piscatella, a state GOP committeeman. “It’s not going to be easy.”
What Mace most obviously brings to the table that the two other challengers cannot is her gender, which she never referenced during her launch Saturday. And even Republican women I spoke to said that it wasn’t a factor they’d consciously consider. “It won’t [matter] to me,” replied Peggy Bangle, one of the Republicans in attendance at Mace’s announcement. But when I pressed her on the strengths of Graham and Mace, she replied, “Lindsey’s good on Benghazi. Nancy’s a strong woman.”
So perhaps it’s a more important factor because it’s left unacknowledged.
The other secret weapon Mace brings to bear is her relationship with Rep. Ron Paul’s contingent. As a political operative, she helped lock down many of Paul’s 2012 endorsements in the Palmetto State and the former congressman has already hinted he’s likely to endorse her. This is a double-edged sword though. While the Paulites are likely to provide crucial on-the-ground reinforcements, Ron Paul’s isolationist foreign brand has left many in this military state with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Fortunately for Mace, the conservative groups known to rock the boat are already circling overhead, seeing Graham as a potential target. They haven’t made any commitments yet but have met with Mace and appear likely to delve in with resources at some point.
Given South Carolina’s solid Republican status, there’s little risk of Democrats contending the seat. Even so, Mace’s speech was largely devoid of ideology and demagoguery. “I see this as a bigger battle. It’s about folks who go up there and become part of the establishment,” she said. “I believe one of the biggest voting blocs in this country is common sense.”
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