Evangelical voters launched President Trump into the White House. Chad Connelly knows firsthand about the effort to organize the Christian voting bloc, as he began working for the Republican National Committee in 2013 as the Director of the Faith Engagement Initiative. In other words, “Jesus in the Public Square.”
Now, Connelly has launched his own campaign to represent South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, a seat vacated when Donald Trump tapped Mick Mulvaney as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
I caught up with Connelly last week and asked him about his campaign and his involvement in the 2016 election.
Tell me about this election. What is the state of the race? Help us understand the 5th District.
There are seven on the Republican side. There’s a total of fifteen running, counting all the different party types—seven on the Republican side. Typical for an open seat. And this being a special election, we have only eleven weeks from the start date to the primary. Eleven weeks from tip to tip. Then, seven weeks later will be the general election.
The District is R+12 [votes Republican by a margin of 12 percent]. It’s a big District geographically. If you know South Carolina, it goes from the Western side, Cherokee Count and a little bit of Spartanburg, all the way over to Sumter and Lee Counties. Then up to York and down to Newberry. Like I said, a very large District.
What kind of support are you getting from the Christian community?
I’m doing a pastor’s organization, a mobilization of the churches. I have four bi-vocational pastors who are helping me. They’re organizing other pastors. We’re going after the early voting from within the churches.
A bunch of pastors are helping out. Guys like Brad Atkins, Pastor of Powdersville First Baptist Church and Pastor Mike Gonzales of Columbia World Outreach. And Pastor Mark Harris from Charlotte is helping out—he ran for Congress last year.
What did you learn over the past few years while serving as the Director of Faith Outreach for the Republican National Convention?
I was mad in 2008-2009 when McCain ignored us [the Evangelical vote]. I was upset in 2012 and 2013 when Romney ignored us.
So when I took the job with the RNC, I had a theory. I thought that if we would activate the churches and connect with them, then we could do something that hadn’t been done before. In my original report, I said that if we get 80% of the Evangelical vote, then the Democrats can’t win.
We got 81%. It set a new record for Evangelical turnout. So, it’s not a theory to me now—I know this is the way.
Look, if I don’t win this, and I’m not in Congress, then I’m going to continue doing this because I think it’s not just about winning an election. It is a way to get the country back.
I’m at peace with what the Lord wants. I’m going to work hard, and if it is His desire for me to be in Congress, then He’s going to make the way. Or if not, then that’s okay with me too. If I’m in Congress, then I’ll have a pretty amazing platform to be able to push this kind of thing.
South Carolina was an interesting case for Evangelicals and politics in the 2016 GOP primary. Donald Trump won the primary over the field which was still wide at that point—full of candidates with more Evangelical bona fides. Then, he defeated Hillary Clinton by fourteen points. What do you hope to see in the future?
I think we reignited people and engaged them. I think what we have to do now is convince them that this is not something you’re in and out on. We have to keep them engaged. I spoke to 2,000 pastors gathered in D.C. the other night, at Awake America, and I told them that the problem with us is when we win we quit. And when we lose, we quit. That’s been the history of Evangelical involvement in politics. But instead, we need to stay engaged.
I do think our problem is we disengage, and then it takes an awful lot of energy to get people back to that level. But we’ve got to discern what the local issues are, and then leverage our influence to impact those issues and concerns.
All politics being local, what are some of the issues of concern to voters in your District?
I’m running on term limits because I just think we never drain the swamp until we get new, fresh faces and some real turnover. I used to be against term limits, but we get people that want to serve 30, 40, or 50 years. Then they become beholden to the special interests.
They become career politicians—and lobbyists. Let’s face it, that’s how we got Obamacare—which is another issue of the campaign. And building up the military. And stopping the waste, the fraud, and the careless spending—20 trillion dollars in debt.
There are so many things, but our poll showed the top issues to be jobs, economy, immigration, and healthcare.