Photo by Ruta Smith

Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace has her eyes set on Washington, but first she has to topple Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham.

Like Cunningham, Mace has made offshore drilling and flooding issues top of her campaign. She has also touted social justice issues during her three years as a state lawmaker and sought bipartisanship. 

Unlike Cunningham, her favorite drink is a vodka basil gimlet. She’s been a single mother since her 2019 divorce, and she has two cats, one of which will sometimes leave a ruined mouse on the front porch of her Daniel Island home. 

Mace is no political newcomer. She mounted a failed attempt to topple U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2012 Republican primary and joined President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. She said his tax cuts have helped with wages and employment in the Charleston region before the pandemic and that him being at the top of the ballot in 2020 could help her win the 1st Congressional District, which only narrowly went to Cunningham in 2018 after being a Republican stronghold for decades. 

The last and only woman to serve the 1st District was Clara G. McMillan, elected to fill the term left by her husband, Thomas McMillan, when he died in office. She served 1939 to 1941. But Mace has some experience in breaking gender barriers. 

From trauma to the Statehouse

Mace said her life was fundamentally shaped by two events: being raped as a teenager and a Supreme Court opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

During her first full term as a state representative, Mace took to the Statehouse floor in May 2019 amid an abortion debate and talked publicly about her rape — a trauma, she told the City Paper, that led her to applying to The Citadel. 

She supported the bill that restricted abortion but included exceptions for rape and incest victims. The bill ultimately died with the session, without being passed in the state Senate. 

The sexual assault’s trauma led to Mace dropping out of school. She eventually got her high school diploma and found something worth living for: succeeding at South Carolina’s military college.

On June 26, 1996, Ginsburg wrote the majority Supreme Court opinion in a 7-to-1 ruling that Virginia Military Institute could not discriminate against women. The year before, The Citadel accepted its first woman cadet, Shannon Faulkner. 

“That decision, her ruling literally changed the course of my life,” Mace said. “I didn’t go there to be the first woman to graduate from there. That’s a misconception by a lot of people. I went because I had all these really awful things happen to me, all this trauma, and I quit on life … I almost had this chip on my shoulder. I had something to prove, and that’s something that has been with me my entire life.”

Nancy Mace lives on Daniel Island with her children Elli and Miles

200 percent

Mace drinks coffee throughout the day. She describes herself as “high energy.” While stricken by the coronavirus earlier this year, she said she joked that she was operating at 185 percent instead of her usual 200 percent. 

Her house is the central hub of all her activity. On the Saturday when the City Paper was invited over, Mace was running between events. An organic, sustainable meal kit sat on the kitchen table. Her children Elli, 11, and Miles, 13, had taken over spots of the house for their at-home learning. The campaign, with all women staffers, is run from a small office in the house. 

Mace’s work-life balance became a sore spot in the recent debates against Cunningham, who questioned her absences for state legislature votes in the last few months. Mace said she had a choice between being with her children or making those votes. But she told the City Paper her children are used to her traveling for work.

“(Going to Congress) won’t be a big difference compared to what they’ve already experienced for the last several years anyway,” Mace said. “Mom works and mom travels.”

On the issues

There are few signs bearing Mace’s name along her street — half of Daniel Island went for Cunningham in 2018. Mace’s yard also doesn’t have a campaign sign either. Her front door has a different message: “Wash your hands (with soap).”

Mace has supported getting back to work during the pandemic. She has talked about how she once lacked health care coverage, but she does not support expanding Medicaid and has called the Affordable Care Act a “failure.” She wants to expand high-deductible insurance plans and expand duties medical professionals increase access to care.

Mace has gotten flak over her questioning of science and whether climate change is caused by human activity. In recent debates, she has said, “Science is never settled” and she wants any effort to be led by science. When asked if humans are causing climate change, she responded:

“Does man contribute to it? I mean, a lot of the science says that too, but I want to stay informed and do as much as we can, but the other thing that’s important to me is that we just cannot simply rely on the United States,” Mace said, adding that she doesn’t want to see “job creators” hurt and that Republicans can lead on the issue.

The Lowcountry has also witnessed protests and calls for racial justice in policing that have swept the nation. 

Mace said one of her best friends from high school was Black. They lost touch other over the years, but now he’s her HVAC repairman. She also said she has talked to the bartender at a Daniel Island bar about his experience as a Black man, who told her he is pulled over 10 times a year, and she listened to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s messages about being pulled over or pulled aside as a Black man even now that he’s a senator.

“It makes you irate and makes your blood boil, but these are things that are still happening,” Mace said. 

She said this is why she supports recidivism programs, prison reform and other bipartisan measures. But, she also condemned the “violence” she sees from the left-wing in the streets. 

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