After finishing well ahead of Rep. Bob Inglis in a five-way GOP primary in South Carolina two weeks ago, Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy finished the job Tuesday night in a landslide.
With 76 percent reporting, The Associated Press called the contest for Gowdy, who had 73 percent to Inglis’ 27 percent.
Inglis is the third House Member to be defeated in a party primary in a cycle that has come to be defined by voter anger and an anti-establishment backlash.
Gowdy’s victory Tuesday was built on his ability to paint Inglis as a Washington, D.C., insider who had strayed from his conservative values and become too moderate during his time in Congress.
In recent years, Inglis’ work to promote environmental legislation has occasionally angered conservatives, and his vote in early 2007 supporting the Democratic resolution opposing the “surge” in Iraq was a key reason he drew a primary challenge last cycle. He beat back that challenge with relative ease, but this cycle Gowdy was able to capture the frustration that many Republican voters felt toward Washington and direct it squarely at Inglis.
Gowdy, who has served as county solicitor for more than a decade, was able to get his message out by putting together an impressive fundraising machine that nearly matched the six-term Congressman dollar for dollar throughout the primary.
But some South Carolina GOP observers will also say that Inglis’ defeat was a case of the nice guy finishing last.
Inglis served three terms in the House from 1992 to 1998. He left to honor his term-limit pledge but returned to the House in January 2005. Although he was known as a conservative firebrand during his first tour in Congress, Inglis adopted a more pragmatic approach to legislating during his second tour on Capitol Hill and became critical of the hyper-partisan political environment.
When it became clear Gowdy would make a serious run in the primary, Inglis refrained from immediately going on the attack and trying to knock Gowdy out of the race before he could establish himself.
Those who know Inglis say that running a hard-hitting, negative campaign isn’t in the Congressman’s style or nature.
Throughout the campaign Inglis seemed more comfortable defending his own record than bashing Gowdy. The Congressman only warmed to the idea of going negative in the late stages of the primary by attacking Gowdy for waffling on the issue of earmarks.
Inglis pulled back from those attacks in the runoff after he finished well behind Gowdy in the initial round of balloting.
In his final ad of the runoff, Inglis chose to run against Washington and ignored Gowdy. Inglis talked about the need for “honest change” in Washington and took an apologetic tone when he told voters that he’d “made mistakes.”
Gowdy’s final ad took a much more aggressive tone.
“What we really need is a willingness to fight … not change or talk but fight for this country we love,” he said in the ad.
Now that he’s secured the nomination, Gowdy should cruise to victory in November in the safely Republican 4th district.