- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The sudden retirement of U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy - a powerful GOP watchdog who built his name leading the investigation into the 2012 attacks against Americans in Benghazi - has spawned a diverse and crowded race for his 4th Congressional District seat in South Carolina, with another candidate adding herself to the mix this week.

Republican Shannon Pierce on Tuesday became the latest candidate to enter the crowded field, telling The Associated Press she planned to file her paperwork Wednesday in Columbia. Describing herself as a “strong conservative” who’ll campaign for each vote, the registered nurse and entrepreneur founded a company that collects and stores patient data to help clinicians assess care options.

“I’m going to put my name in tomorrow, and then it’s no looking back,” the first-time candidate told AP ahead of her official announcement. “I really think that the way I’m going to get people’s votes is going to be one cup of coffee, one conversation at a time.”

Pierce, 45, joins a crowded field of expected candidates for the state’s only open congressional seat, which Gowdy won in 2016 with 67 percent of votes cast. The former South Carolina prosecutor was first elected in the 2010 tea party wave that returned control of the House to Republicans. U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, chairman of the campaign committee that oversees GOP election efforts in the House, has predicted the seat will stay in Republican control in November, but a few Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination in their own June primary.

Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in January became the latest prominent Republican to announce he wouldn’t seek another term, saying he planned to return to the justice system in an unspecified role.

His committee’s lengthy investigation into the Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans focused heavily on Hillary Clinton’s role as secretary of state, though an 800-page report produced no smoking gun pointing to any wrongdoing. The investigation also revealed that Clinton used a private email server for government work, prompting an FBI investigation that proved to be an albatross in the Democrat’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The diverse GOP field Pierce now joins is expected to include several state lawmakers - Sen. William Timmons and state Rep. Dan Hamilton - as well as Mark Burns, a black pastor closely linked to President Donald Trump who gave a fiery speech at the 2016 Republican convention. James Epley, another Republican hopeful, worked on Trump’s campaign in the Upstate. Spartanburg County GOP Chairman Josh Kimbrell filed his campaign papers Tuesday.

He’s yet to officially file his paperwork, but former state Sen. Lee Bright has said he will enter the race. Bright is known for taking outspokenly conservative stances, sponsoring a proposal to force transgender people to use public bathrooms matching their birth gender and backing a requirement that state police track foreign refugees resettled in South Carolina.

Bright also proposed legislation that would have allowed residents to carry guns without concealed-weapons permits - a concept known as “open carry” - and was one of only three senators who voted against removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015.

Bright challenged U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2014, finishing a distant second in the GOP primary. He lost his own re-election bid in 2016.

So far, here’s how the campaign for South Carolina’s only open congressional seat is shaping up. All of the candidates listed below except for Bright, Burns and Pierce have officially filed campaign paperwork, and a half-dozen others have formed exploratory committees:

REPUBLICANS

- Lee Bright

- Mark Burns

- James Epley

- Dan Hamilton

- Josh Kimbrell

- Shannon Pierce

- Justin David Sanders

- William Timmons

DEMOCRATS

- Brandon Brown

- JT Davis

- Eric Graben

- Will Morin

THIRD PARTIES

- Guy V. Furay (American Party)

___

Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.


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