South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District votes today – and Tea Party activists are in the middle of it

South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District is voting in the Republican primary for Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) replacement today. The race has gotten national attention for a variety of reasons, including the candidacy of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford among the 16 men and women running.

Back in February, a number of conservative grassroots groups in the 1st District joined with Freedomworks and Tea Party Patriots to launch a Candidate Forum, complete with a Voter Guide. According to co-organizer Debbie Jones, there were approximately 450 people in attendance, and all 16 GOP candidates participated.

The Forum was quite extensive, with three Tea Party organizations, four 9.12 Project groups, the Lowcountry Citizens in Action, the Republican Liberty Caucus of South Carolina, and the Citadel Republican Society helping to organize. Each organization, had tables, and every candidate had a table as well. According to Renee Cannon, who helped set up the forum, “It was the most thorough grassroots/candidate combination I’ve ever seen. It was really a tremendous event.”

One of the most important aspects of the Forum was the Voter Guide. Made up of 20 questions, each candidate was graded from 1 to 5 per question. Each candidate was interviewed by a committee of judges drawn from participating grassroots groups about these questions prior to the Forum, and received a score based on their responses to the interview. Jones said she was surprised at the scoring, as she had expected one or two candidates to break from the pack. “Today’s election is going to be very interesting. We have candidates with a lot of political experience, some with very little, some who are running on business backgrounds – and yet, they all fit the bill, to varying degrees, as fiscally conservative candidates.”

Steve Doty, who coordinated the voter guide committee, said they condensed the questions from dozens to 20 over a period of time, based upon the priorities of the entire committee. “We really could have asked twice as many questions. However, we wanted to focus our attention on the areas our members see as most harmful to the fiscal health of America –  Obamacare, a Balanced Budget Amendment, and other areas.”

Tea Party Patriots Regional Support Team member Rachael Proctor, who helped create the voter guide, said the experience was very valuable and would help set the standard for future elections. “For all the media’s claims about the lack of sophistication among grassroots groups, the Candidate Forum puts that idea in the dustbin where it belongs. Everyone worked together exceedingly well, utilizing the best skills of all participants. The entire process was efficient and thorough, and is going to set the standard going forward.”

The event was well-covered in local media, with at least one newspaper and two TV stations covering. It is expected the race will require a run-off onApril 2.  The general election will be held on May 7.

Here are all the candidates in the race, with videos of most of them from the local ABC News affiliate:

Republican candidates filing for the 1st Congressional District:

Keith Blanford

Curtis Bostic

Ric Bryant

Larry Grooms

Jonathan Hoffman

Jeff King

John Kuhn

Tim Larkin (video available after 7 p.m. newscast)

Chip Limehouse (declined invitation to appear)

Peter McCoy (video available after 7 p.m. newscast)

Elizabeth Moffly

Ray Nash

Andy Patrick

Shawn Pinkston

Mark Sanford

Teddy Turner

Democratic candidates filing for the 1st Congressional District:

Elizabeth Colbert Busch

Ben Frasier

Green Party:

Eugene Platt