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House Republican earns primary challenger over McCarthy support

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Rep. William Timmons is a conservative facing a new twist on a familiar problem in the House GOP: a primary from the right, focused on his support for Kevin McCarthy back in January.

Adam Morgan, a state representative for parts of Greenville, South Carolina is slated to launch a formal campaign against Timmons on Thursday night. Morgan, a co-founder of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus chapter, says there is a “void” between Timmons and the ruby-red district because he has not engaged in bigger fights with GOP leadership — or joined the rebellious House Freedom Caucus.

“On the fight in January, William was completely absent. He wasn’t with the Freedom Caucus. He was with McCarthy. And that’s a huge stain on his record,” Morgan said in an interview with POLITICO ahead of his launch.

Calling his conservative voting record the “bare minimum,” Morgan added: “Where are you on the big fights that are really impacting and changing the system? The concessions that the conservatives got from McCarthy, like those are some of the biggest changes in a generation for the operation of the House of Representatives. And it’s like: how in the world are you not present in that fight?”

Primary challenges from the right aren’t anything new for House Republicans. But Morgan is making a new implication among conservatives more explicit: it’s not enough to back the right flank’s priorities anymore, you also have to be willing to rebel against party leadership.

But Morgan’s lane in the primary race isn’t clear. While he runs to the right of Timmons, the South Carolina incumbent has largely voted with the right-wing corner of his party since he was elected to office in 2019. Timmons has the endorsement of conservative darlings like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, and a good relationship with former President Donald Trump. Heritage Action, which scores Republicans based on how they vote on conservative policy, has rated Timmons at a 95 percent lifetime score and a 100 percent in this Congress.

So Timmons is essentially scoffing at Morgan’s critiques.

“You’re hard pressed to find someone more conservative. You might find someone louder, but you’re not gonna find somebody more conservative,” Timmons said in an interview. “Just because I don’t scream and yell, doesn’t mean we’re not fighting.”

As for his challenger, Timmons argued Morgan’s record shows he is “destructive” versus “productive,” saying his new opponent has been “extremely ineffective in Columbia” as well as a “chaos agent.”

That split also reflects the divide among House Republicans, particularly since January. A smaller group of GOP lawmakers frequently argue leadership hasn’t gone far enough, while the majority say conservative purists are hurting the institution and the party with their refusal to take smaller wins in the interest of pursuing impossible goals, like severe spending cuts or changes to abortion policy under a Democratic president.

As for whether he would’ve joined the push to oust ex-Speaker McCarthy, Morgan demurred, remarking he would’ve needed more information.

Josh Kimbrell, a South Carolina state senator who previously ran against Timmons in a crowded primary for the open seat in 2018, said Morgan’s line of attack was mostly on strategy.

“The only possible angle of attack is to say that Congressman Timmons’ tactics haven’t been aggressive or obstructionist enough,” Kimbrell said. “But we, as conservatives, have to learn not only to be conservative, but to govern effectively.”

“For Rep. Morgan to run against Congressman Timmons on fiscal issues, or on government waste is ridiculous,” he added.

He noted Timmons has high marks with the conservative Club for Growth. And Timmons himself noted that it’d be “very detrimental to their efforts if they were to spend money against someone that had their second highest score.”

Some in the South Carolina GOP believe Morgan may be running this time around to raise his name I.D., or that he’d be better suited to challenge someone with a different voting record, like Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) — a far less conservative member who did vote to boot McCarthy — but Morgan indicated he also saw an opportunity in going after Timmons.

Last cycle, Timmons defeated multiple GOP primary challengers, winning just over 50 percent of the vote for South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. After that, he skated to reelection with 91% of the vote.

Morgan touted his record of fighting for transparency and budget reductions, as well as “shutting down a pediatric transgender clinic that was fully state funded, fighting to get CRT and political indoctrination out of schools.” Timmons pointed to his work on the House Modernization Committee where he served as vice-chair, and the bills he enacted that include designating an Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Greenville as the “Lance Corporal Dana Cornell Darnell VA Clinic” and efforts to promote secure 5G use.

Timmons, a former prosecutor, is likely also further protected because of his ties to Trump. There is little chance he risks incurring the wrath of the ex-president — as others facing primary challengers may — because he has endorsed and serves on the presidential frontrunner’s leadership team in the state. Morgan, however, has not endorsed in the presidential primary.

“I will outrace him 10 to one and I have Trump. Trump has about a 68 percent approval rating in my district,” Timmons said.

Morgan argued that if Trump and Jordan knew he was running, he’d earn their endorsements.

“I think if Donald Trump looks at this race, he’s gonna endorse me. I think if he compares it and looks at my record, what I’ve done and what I’m talking about, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up getting the endorsement,” Morgan argued.

Morgan is expected to roll out some endorsements of his own — including potentially some of Timmons’ colleagues in the House.

“He’s a mover and shaker in the house,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus. “He’ll be substantial.”

Timmons, asked about the possibility Norman would support his challenger, also didn’t hold back: “He has a personal gripe that I got on Financial Services before him, even though he was more senior. And I hate that for him, because I had nothing to do with that.”