CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Monday was the first debate in a closely-watched GOP primary for control of the 1st Congressional District seat in Washington.
The hour-long debate was intended to feature three candidates, but Lynz Piper-Loomis exited the stage on the first question, announcing her intent to endorse Katie Arrington.
That left the two frontrunners– incumbent Nancy Mace and Trump-backed Katie Arrington.
For weeks leading up to the debate, Mace and Arrington have traded jabs on the campaign trail and on social media, setting the stage for a contentious debate.
Arrington, who was defeated by Joe Cunningham in 2018, has accused Mace of turning her back on former President Trump for criticizing his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. She has also rebuked Mace’s efforts to legalize marijuana, calling on the congresswoman to take a drug test after returning from a conference in Miami, and criticized Mace’s frequent television appearances.
Mace has shot back by questioning Arrington’s campaign finances–she gave herself a $500K personal loan, while Mace has amassed a multi-million war chest– and has called Arrington “nasty.” Mace got a boost to her campaign from Former Governor Nikki Haley, who appeared in a Mace reelection TV ad calling the incumbent a “fighter” and that she is the right choice to keep the seat under Republican control.
As expected, Arrington’s departure from the U.S. Department of Defense was brought up at Monday’s debate. Arrington’s security clearance was suspended and she was placed on leave from the Pentagon in May 2021 when officials accused her of leaking classified information. Arrington has maintained that Mace is lying and she has been the victim of a “political hit job.”
Mace previously called on Arrington to take a lie detector test about why she lost security clearance to which Arrington replied “name a time and place.” While the lie detector exchange was not explicitly referenced, Mace took an opportunity in her closing remarks to comment.
“I can be trusted to keep the nation’s secrets,” Mace said. “I wasn’t the one who had my security clearance suspended for leaking classified information about our military.”
“Everything she said is a lie and I have proven it time and time again,” Arrington shot back.
Another hot-button issue on the table was the baby formula shortage which has affected millions of families across the nation, including in SC-01. MUSC confirmed four babies were hospitalized at Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital as a result of the shortage last week.
Mace touted the bill she filed last week to temporarily waive import tariffs on foreign baby formula for 90 days. The United States currently imposes up to 17.5 percent tariff and tariff-rate quotas on infant formula.
Arrington, on the other hand, asserted that the shortage would not have happened under former President Trump’s watch.
“I ran the supply chain during the pandemic and I can tell you what you are feeling right now is 100 Biden policies manufactured,” Arrington stated.
As the debate continued, the candidates touched on a range of topics including voting rights, infrastructure, gun control, the teacher shortage, and the possibility of overturning Roe v Wade, among others.
While the two seemed to agree on the core of several of those issues, one thread was common–Arrington insisting that Mace is too moderate and “playing to the Democrats.”
“I appreciate that you think playing to the moderate base and playing to the Left is going to win this seat, it is absolutely not,” Arrington said. “We want the ‘America First’ agenda.”
Mace has an 80% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union while Arrington has a 51.9% lifetime rating.
As the debate wrapped up, the candidates were asked to explain how they would engage with and represent minority voters. According to 2019 census data, SC-01 is comprised of 69.4% White voters, 18.8% Black or African American voters, and 2.65% Hispanic voters.
Both Mace and Arrington maintained that the Republican party was a “big tent party” and the “party of the People.”
But even as glimpses of agreement showed, the attacks continued into the final seconds of the debate.
Arrington asserted that Mace only flipped the seat in 2018 because she had Trump’s endorsement, something which Arrington now has herself.
“My platform is that of the Conservatives: Faith, Family, and Freedom,” she said. “I’m going up as a Trump-endorsed, America First candidate in the South Carolina district one as a servant leader.”
Mace, in closing, emphasized her proven voting record and said she hopes voters allow her to continue serving in Washington.
“I am the only candidate up here who knows how to beat a Democrat in this day and age in this district,” she said. “When I won this seat because my opponent couldn’t in 2020, it’s because I promised to work hard for the Lowcountry and my record speaks for itself and I’m very proud of that record.”