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Split decision for Trump in high profile South Carolina GOP congressional primaries

On the day he turned 76, former President Donald Trump received one of the two birthday presents he desired.

So far this primary season, a Trump endorsed candidate had yet to knock off a GOP incumbent who had crossed the former president. But that changed on Tuesday as South Carolina state lawmaker Russell Fry convincingly defeated five-term Rep. Tom Rice in the Republican primary in South Carolina’s reliably red 7th Congressional District.

But the former president didn’t receive the sweep he was hoping for – as Rep. Nancy Mace held on in the GOP primary in the state’s swingy 1st Congressional District to defeat former state lawmaker Katie Arrington, who was backed by Trump.

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“Give me a birthday present, please. Two birthday presents,” Trump urged his supporters a week ago as he headlined a tele-rally for Arrington and Fry.

His supporters delivered against Rice, who was one of just ten House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump on charges that he fueled the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol led by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of now-President Biden’s Election College victory in the 2020 election.

Six of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are running for reelection, and Rice was the first to face a challenger endorsed by the former president.

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The self-described “Chamber of Commerce” style Republican repeatedly leaned into his impeachment vote, telling Fox News on the eve of the primary that “Republicans are supposed to protect the Constitution. We take an oath to protect the Constitution, not a man. And so what I did was take a conservative vote.”

Fry told Fox News he wouldn’t have challenged Rice if the congressman hadn’t voted for impeachment and emphasized that “the impeachment is the big elephant in the room and the voters are incredibly frustrated by that.”

Republican congressional candidate Russell Fry speaks to supporters at a campaign event on the eve of the state's primary, in Florence , S.C. on June 13, 2022.

Fry crushed Rice by a two-to-one margin according to unofficial results and topped 50% to win outright and avoid a runoff election in two weeks. 

Trump celebrated in a social media post on Truth Social, writing that “the biggest News of the evening so far is that Russell Fry beat Impeach Master Tom Rice with a Vote of more than 51%, therefore WINNING OUTRIGHT with no need for a run-off. Rice only got 24%. Congratulations to Russell on running a great campaign!”

While the former president was just one factor in Rice’s defeat, former South Carolina GOP chair Matt Moore told Fox News that Trump’s endorsement of Fry was a crucial moment that separated him from the other half-dozen rivals also challenging the incumbent.

“Donald Trump powered Russell Fry to victory. There was no doubt about it,” said Moore, who served as a senior adviser to the Fry campaign. “Russell had a great chance to beat Tom Rice but Donald Trump added rocket fuel to the Fry campaign and it took off.”

Fry’s win comes three weeks after a trio of Trump backed candidates primary challenging Republican incumbents in statewide contests in Georgia all went down to defeat. In the most high profile contest, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp crushed former Sen. David Perdue, who was endorsed and heavily supported by the former president.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina speaks to supporters at her election night event after defeating former state Rep. Katie Arrington in the 1st District primary on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

While Fry was victorious, it was a very different story in the 1st Congressional District, a key general election swing seat which includes much of coastal South Carolina including the fast-growing suburbs surrounding the city of Charleston, as well as the more conservative Beaufort County, home to Hilton Head Island.

Mace was one of the earliest South Carolina supporters of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. But while Mace didn’t vote to impeach, she did publicly criticize Trump after the storming of the Capitol, saying he “put all of our lives at risk.”. 

Even though Trump repeatedly targeted her, Mace kept spotlighting her MAGA credentials. “I’m the only candidate in this race that supports America First policies. We have a lot that we can agree on as Americans, as conservatives, as Republicans, no matter what brand of Republican you are in our country. I put our country first,” Mace told Fox News on Sunday.

Republican congressional candidate Katie Arrington, who's primary challenging Rep. Nancy Mace in the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina's Tuesday primary, speaks with Fox News in Summerville, S.C on June 12, 2022.

But Trump quickly changed his tune on Tuesday night, congratulating Mace in a post on Truth Social, where he said “Katie Arrington was a long shot but ran a great race and way over performed. Congrats to Nancy Mace, who should easily be able to defeat her Democrat opponent.”

Moore noted that “it was more difficult [for Trump] to explain the anger towards Nancy Mace and that made the difference. It wasn’t about impeachment. It was about a far more complicated story and that made it far more difficult.”

And he emphasized that “Nancy Mace is a Trump Republican even if other Trump Republicans don’t agree.”

Former ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley headlines a campaign event for Republican Rep. Nancy Mace in Summerville, South Carolina on June 12, 2022.

While Mace’s win was a setback for Trump, it was a victory for another potential 2024 GOP presidential contender – former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, helped raise over $400,000 for Mace’s campaign, did get-out-the-vote videos, robocalls, and texts for the congresswoman, starred in Mace ads and headlined Mace campaign events on Sunday and Monday.

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