Andrew Dys

Confederate flag may have been the loser in Tuesday’s primary

Confederate flag supporters rally in front of the York County Courthouse in downtown York in April.
Confederate flag supporters rally in front of the York County Courthouse in downtown York in April.

There appears to have been a loser in Tuesday’s South Carolina GOP 5th Congressional District primary – the Confederate flag.

Republican Sheri Few was the only candidate who claimed the Confederate flag should have stayed up at the Statehouse after Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a church in 2015. Roof is now in a federal prison. The Statehouse Confederate flag came down in 2015.

Candidate Few spoke to a pro-Confederate flag rally in York on April 22. She said in campaign ads that it was just “political correctness” to take down the flag, and that the flag represented heritage.

Archie Parnell, who won Tuesday’s Democratic 5th Congressional District primary, said Few’s message was hate. Her Republican rivals, Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman, who had voted to take down the flag in Columbia, ignored her and said the flag issue was settled.

Maybe the people in South Carolina’s 5th District also had their say about the Confederate flag. On Tuesday, Few finished fifth out of seven GOP candidates, and she was the only candidate who made the flag a campaign issue. She got 2,000 votes in 11 counties, of the almost 39,000 votes cast in the GOP primary.

Two York County political experts said the vote clearly shows the bulk of voters have moved beyond the flag debate.

“The results show there was no traction in the Confederate flag issue,” said Karen Kedrowski, Winthrop College of Arts & Sciences dean, and a longtime political science and media professor. “It means candidate Few’s attempt to court the Confederate flag vote failed. Unquestionably, it failed.”

South Carolina has a huge number of new Republican voters, conservatives, who have no history with the Confederate flag, Kedrowski said.

“They are new Southerners and those old arguments didn’t fly,” Kedrowski said.

Rick Whisonant, political science professor at York Technical College and chair of the social sciences department, said the vote totals clearly showed the flag is now a “fringe” issue.

The other candidates were talking about major issues, and Few was talking about putting the flag back up, Whisonant said.

York County opened its renovated courthouse three months ago with no Confederate flag hanging in the courtroom. The flag and other Confederate regalia had been up there for decades before $10 million in renovations. A cross section of people, Democrats and Republicans, black and white, politicians and clergy, said the flag had no place in a courtroom.

Confederate flag proponents claim the flag is history, and is protected as a monument by the South Carolina Heritage Act. They rallied for the flag during the campaign.

York County officials argue the flag in the courthouse is not a monument. They asked the S.C. Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion.

That opinion has not yet been sent, said York County attorney Michael Kendree.