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Decision 2024

Decision 2024: A Disqualification

For Duncan's Seat: Primary opponent says it's just like Colorado trying to keep Trump off the ballot


SC GOP won’t put a candidate on the ballot. Joining his defense is a potential primary opponent.

A candidate kept off the Republican primary ballot for an Upstate congressional seat has found an unlikely ally — one of his would-be opponents.

Michael LaPierre was among eight Republicans who filed to run for the 3rd District seat held for 14 years by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens, who’s not seeking re-election.

The problem, according to the state GOP, is that LaPierre lives in the adjacent 4th District.

LaPierre, of Travelers Rest, said the party’s director notified him April 5 that he would not be certified for the June 11 GOP primary, since party rules require candidates to live in the district they are running to represent. The party returned his $3,480 filing fee.

The entrepreneur and former minor league baseball player acknowledges that he has no home in the 3rd District, which spans 11 counties along South Carolina’s northern border with Georgia, from Edgefield to Oconee and as far east as Newberry County. He used to live there before moving to Travelers Rest a couple of years ago, he said.

He told the SC Daily Gazette he would relocate again if he won the June primary.

“I would be honored … if winning the primary, to move,” he said.

LaPierre noted that the U.S. Constitution does not require candidates for Congress to live in the district — only the state.

But state GOP rules do require it.

“Unfortunately we are not able to certify you as a candidate, due to your residency not being in the 3rd Congressional District,” state GOP Director Hope Rossi wrote LaPierre in an email, citing a decades-old party rule.

According to the party, it goes back to at least 1989.

The open 3rd District race is by far South Carolina’s most crowded congressional contest this year.

In all, 11 people are running (including State Rep. Stewart Jones of Laurens). Two Democrats and an Alliance Party candidate also filed for the safely Republican seat.

One of the seven other Republicans in the race has come to LaPierre’s defense.

In a letter Monday to state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick, Kevin Bishop of Pickens County asked for LaPierre to be placed on the ballot.

The former longtime communications director for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said it would be a “disservice” to the voters if LaPierre is left off the ballot.

Bishop mentioned the efforts by Colorado and other states to remove former President Donald Trump from the ballot, saying he did not want South Carolina to do something similar.

“It may seem unusual that I would support having another candidate appear on the ballot as it creates even more competition,” Bishop wrote to McKissick in the letter shared publicly. “However, on matters of principle, our personal interests give way to the greater good. In this case, the greater good is promoting and protecting the democratic process.”

LaPierre’s previous unsuccessful attempts at office include trying to oust Bishop’s former boss. In 2020, LaPierre lost in a four-way GOP primary that Graham won by 68%.

He challenged U.S. Rep. William Timmons in the 4th District two years ago. Timmons won that four-way GOP primary by 53%.

He also challenged McKissick in 2021 as state GOP chairman.

What about Burns?

Another Republican who was certified for the 3rd District ballot has previously run outside the district where he currently lives.

In 2022, Easley pastor Mark Burns was among Republicans who challenged Timmons.

State GOP spokeswoman Abby Zilch said that was different. Burns, who gained national attention for his support of Trump, was registered to vote at the time at a Greenville address, which is in the 4th District. In March, his registration changed to his Easley address in the 3rd District. 

“Therefore, Mr. Burns was registered and living in the 4th district when he filed in 2022,” Zilch wrote to the SC Daily Gazette.

Burns ran without Trump’s endorsement in 2022. This time, Trump is backing Timmons for re-election and Burns to win the crowded 3rd District seat.

It’s a party decision

Whether LaPierre appears on the primary ballot is entirely up to the state party, said John Michael Catalano, spokesman for the South Carolina Election Commission.

“It’s the responsibility of the parties to certify their candidates,” he said. “If they’re certified by the party, we put them on the ballot.”

The state GOP has until April 27 at the very latest to notify the elections agency of a change.

That’s the deadline for parties to certify candidate for the June primaries, in order to get ballots printed and mailed to voters overseas, Catalano said.

LaPierre is considering his options in the meantime.

“I am consulting with very good attorneys to find out what my next steps are,” he said.


Abraham Kenmore is a reporter covering elections, health care and more. He joins the SC Daily Gazette from The Augusta Chronicle, where he reported on Georgia legislators, military and housing issues.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.