Fresh off an appearance with Fox News, Republican Congresswoman-elect Nancy Mace talks to us by phone as she heads to Washington, D.C. for orientation to serve South Carolina's first congressional district.
"It still feels a little surreal," says Mace. "We made possible what so many said was going to be impossible to do."
Listen: Congresswoman-elect Nancy Mace talks about the race, the win, and her journey from a Ladson Waffle House to Washington, D.C. where she is preparing to serve South Carolina's first district. - A Production of South Carolina Public Radio
The 42 year-old state representative beat incumbent Congressman Joe Cunningham who also did what was thought to be impossible two years ago; he was elected as the first Democrat to serve the district in 40 years.
The race then was razor thin. Cunningham won by fewer than 4,000 votes. Republicans have wanted to take back the seat ever since and once again it was close with a margin of victory of a little more than one percentage point.
Mace believes she outworked the popular, 38 year-old congressman who early polls had favored to win.
"Everyone was coming together, knocking on doors, making phone calls and helping to text," Mace says.
The Goose Creek native and single mother of two claimed victory the day after the election at a Waffle House in Ladson on College Park Road. Her voice quivered as she spoke about the significance of the place.
"25 years ago when I dropped out of school at the age of 17, this is where my first job was," said Mace. "At the time, I didn't know what my future would hold."
The Work and Another First
The congresswoman-elect says she learned some tough lessons and worked hard before enrolling in The Citadel, Charleston's once all-male military school. She famously became the first female to graduate from its corps of cadets
Now Mace is marking another first. She is the first Republican woman elected to Congress from South Carolina.
She says she was propelled by an all-female, millennial team. But Campaign Manager Mara Mellstrom says Mace deserves a lot of credit as well.
"No one will outwork Nancy Mace flat out," says Mellstrom.
Political scientist Dr. Gibbs Knotts of the College of Charleston admits he thought Cunningham would win but knew it would be close.
"For Nancy Mace it was about being a strong candidate, having an impressive biography and running a good campaign," Knotts says. "But it was also about being able to benefit from a little bit of coattails from Donald Trump."
He believes having President Trump at the top of the ticket helped Mace in a state the president easily won.
Dr. Knotts says the Republican candidates in both the first congressional district and U.S. Senate races also hammered home a message that served them well; they painted their opponents as liberals.
"It was a smart strategy by both Lindsey Graham and Nancy Mace to nationalize the race and connect their opponents with the National Democratic Party," says Knotts. "It hurt them in a conservative place like South Carolina."
Then, there was the pandemic which became highly politicized with Democrats like Cunningham cautiously holding virtual events while Republicans like Mace continued to meet in person. Dr. Knotts says while Democrats tried to be responsible, they may have paid a price.
Mace says she knocked on 1,000 doors the week before the election.
"Going door to door, talking to people individually about what's going on in their heart and minds, nothing beats it."
Now Mace is beating the streets in our nation's capital as she tries to get acquainted with congressional life. She's even sharing the experience on social media.
"I joked with someone earlier," she says smiling at the camera. "It's kind of like freshman hazing. I actually got lost everywhere I went or had to go."
The woman who once served customers at a Lowcountry Waffle House is busy preparing to serve constituents in Washington.