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    HomePoliticsNancy Mace Defeats G.O.P. Challenger, Dealing Blow to McCarthy’s Revenge Tour

    Nancy Mace Defeats G.O.P. Challenger, Dealing Blow to McCarthy’s Revenge Tour

    Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, on Tuesday defeated a well-funded primary challenger, putting her on track to win a third term. Her resounding victory also dealt a major blow to former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to exact political retribution against those who voted to oust him.

    Ms. Mace, 46, who once leaned center on social issues, won a Democratic seat in 2020 and claimed that all of former President Donald J. Trump’s accomplishments had been “wiped out” by his behavior on Jan. 6, 2021. But she has made a hard tack to the right over the past year as she has tried to game out her political future. The Associated Press declared her victory about two hours after polls closed on Tuesday.

    She was the unlikeliest of the eight rebel Republicans who voted to oust Mr. McCarthy last year, which transformed her from an ally into one of his top targets for revenge. Outside groups with ties to Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, have poured more than $4 million into backing her opponent, Catherine Templeton, and attacking Ms. Mace.

    Ms. Mace said that effort motivated her to work harder.

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

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

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

    She said in the interview that she had lost 30 pounds on her already slim frame since November, when she went through a difficult breakup with her fiancé. That same month, she overhauled her Washington office, where all of her senior staff were fired or quit. Her former chief of staff, Dan Hanlon, at one point even filed paperwork to run against her, though he did not go through with it.

    Many of those former staff members have spent the ensuing months anonymously spreading unflattering stories about Ms. Mace’s erratic behavior, including that she used to speak openly and inappropriately about her sex life in front of junior staff members.

    “I don’t talk about my sex life in private because it’s nonexistent,” Ms. Mace said, swatting away all of the embarrassing stories as “inside the Beltway B.S.” (She nonetheless admitted it was a hard rumor to deny after she made a ribald joke in public about her sex life, at a prayer breakfast hosted by Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina. She said her voters did not care about anonymously sourced innuendo.)

    The campaign, she said, has been a welcome distraction from her personal travails.

    Ms. Mace, who has been serving as her own campaign manager, accused Mr. McCarthy of hurting the G.O.P. in his quest for personal revenge. “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 notion that Mr. McCarthy would like to be Mr. Trump’s chief of staff at the White House, should Mr. Trump win in November. “He’s got to stop dividing our party.”

    She insisted that she was not dividing the party when she voted to oust Mr. McCarthy as speaker, but rather taking a tough vote based on principle.

    Still, her vote instigated a bitter primary battle. Shortly before Ms. Mace’s arrival at the Waffle House, a New York Times photographer watched a woman remove from the lawn outside the restaurant a row of Mace campaign signs, throw them into her car and drive off.

    “That happens all the time,” Ms. Mace said when told of the incident.

    Ms. Mace has long tacked back and forth as she has tried to find a resting place for herself in the current G.O.P. She appears to have decided that there was not one if she did not mend her break with Mr. Trump, so she became one of his loudest cheerleaders.

    “I’m all in now,” Ms. Mace said Tuesday when pressed on the fact that she had said in the past that she would not campaign for Mr. Trump if he emerged as the party’s nominee. “A lot of things have changed — three and a half years of Joe Biden. I’m all in on Trump.” She said that President Biden’s re-election run was akin to “elder abuse.”

    Ms. Mace endorsed Mr. Trump over Nikki Haley, the state’s former governor who two years ago stood with her when the former president was calling Ms. Mace a “grandstanding loser” as he supported a far-right challenger looking to unseat her. Ms. Mace also worked to win back Mr. Trump’s support by appearing constantly on the television programs he watches and blasting the Justice Department for indicting him.

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

    “That she has been supported by President Trump, to me, was a defining decision,” said Richard Chelten, a resident of Beaufort who said he had voted for her earlier in the day. “I don’t even know who this Templeton is. I’d rather go with what I know.”

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

    Representative Joe Wilson, a long-serving South Carolina Republican, endorsed Ms. Templeton. Ms. Mace said she confronted him about that endorsement on the House floor.

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

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

    The high-profile race between Ms. Mace and Ms. Templeton boiled down to little more than a proxy war between Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Mace, and there was scant daylight between the two candidates when it came to the issues.

    But the contest turned ugly. Ms. Mace called Ms. Templeton, a former state government official, a “puppet” of the former speaker. Ms. Templeton said Ms. Mace constantly “flip-flops for fame.” And in the days before the primary, Ms. Templeton promoted allegations that the congresswoman sought excessive reimbursements from a taxpayer-funded program that allows lawmakers to seek repayment of expenses incurred in Washington.

    Since his ouster, Mr. McCarthy has done little to disguise his distinct vitriol for Ms. Mace. “I hope Nancy gets the help she needs — I really do,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters in February. “I just hope she gets the help to straighten out her life. I mean, she’s got a lot of challenges.”

    Ms. Mace said that she had no regrets over her vote to oust Mr. McCarthy. But she admitted that when she cast that vote last October, she had no idea how defining it would be.

    Speaker Mike Johnson, who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get his members to stop seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans, headlined a fund-raiser for Ms. Mace in Washington. “He’s operating from a principled and honorable place,” she said.

    Ms. Mace is not expected to have a competitive race in the November general election. Her district is rated solidly Republican by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

    “If I win by the largest margin I’ve ever won,” she said hours before the polls closed, “I’m not going to change a damn thing.”



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