COLUMBIA, S.C. — The runoff election for the Republican GOP nomination to replace Mick Mulvaney in South Carolina’s 5th District was too close to call Tuesday night, with the slightest or margins separating the contenders.

The difference in votes between former lawmaker Ralph Norman and state legislator Tommy Pope was less than 1 percent, meaning a recount is automatic.

Norman, who held a slight lead with all precincts reporting, was claiming victory, and the Club for Growth, whose political arm backed Norman, sent out an email message congratulating him.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Pope said he would let the automatic recount process play out, thanking his supporters and saying he was “humbled and thankful” for their trust.

Mulvaney vacated the 5th District seat to become White House budget director. The runoff was required when voters in the Republican-leaning district gave Norman and Pope roughly equal support while rejecting the flamethrowers and outsiders in a seven-way GOP primary.

Both candidates selectively align with President Donald Trump, supporting his proposed border wall with Mexico as well as favoring his efforts to promote U.S. economic growth by loosening federal regulations. Both also pledged to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Although Pope, a former prosecutor, had the support of several high-profile state Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, Norman got backing from conservative organizations from outside the state. That vein of support includes Ted Cruz, who stumped with the real estate developer Monday, as well as Jim DeMint, the former senator and recently departed chief at The Heritage Foundation.

That backing was big for some voters in the 5th District on Tuesday. David L. O’Neal, a retired Army officer and paratrooper from Tega Cay, said that he supported Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid and was glad to see him back Norman.

“I’m excited about what he’s going to do for veterans,” O’Neal said of Norman. “And just rebuilding the military in general.”

County election boards will meet Thursday to certify results. The State Election Commission meets on Friday and could order a recount to begin by midmorning, according to agency spokesman Chris Whitmire. Any paper ballots and electronic ballots would be scanned and read again, with results available on the commission’s website.

Results could be certified a few hours later, Whitmire said.

The congressional district spans 11 mostly rural counties as it stretches north from Columbia, through Charlotte suburbs and then west to pick up more rural areas. It had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years until state Republicans redrew the map, changing the boundaries to draw it more safely under their party’s control.

It’s the same district held by the fictional Democratic politician Frank Underwood in the first season of “House of Cards” on Netflix and had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years until Mulvaney’s victory in 2010 over longtime U.S. Rep. John Spratt.

The eventual winner will go up against Democrat Archie Parnell on June 20.


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard