Pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood's decision to run for chair of the South Carolina Republican Party has turned a typically sleepy race into a headache for the GOP.
Wood, a conspiracy theory-touting lawyer who is a chief propagator of debunked claims of voter fraud in the presidential race, is challenging current South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick after moving to the Palmetto State in February — despite former President TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE having already backed McKissick.
The implications of the race to lead the state’s Republican Party — which will be decided at its convention Saturday — extend beyond the state’s boundaries due to South Carolina’s early slot in the presidential primary calendar.
Wood’s candidacy in the race has mostly been defined by rabble-rousing antics, including heckling McKissick during a local Republican event in April and vowing to “shake it up” in South Carolina.
And while Republicans in the state assure that McKissick has his reelection bid in the bag, they say Wood’s candidacy is an unwanted distraction.
“I just think Lin is a lot of hot air,” said Clarendon County Republican Party Chair Moye Graham. “I don't even know why he wants to run for the South Carolina chair.”
“I'm not concerned about him winning, I'm concerned about him breaking off people from the party because of the way he tries to manipulate people and tries to act in public. It makes good Republicans look bad,” he added. “I mean, the guy is a loose cannon.”
Wood first gained prominence in high-profile cases such as his stint as defense attorney for Richard Jewell, who was falsely accused in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996, and for representing the family of JonBenét Ramsey.
However, he has most recently drawn attention for his enthusiastic backing of Trump and espousing of various conspiracy theories.
Wood has voiced support for the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that Democrats are running a satanic child trafficking cabal, and spearheaded a string of lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results across the country, including in his home state of Georgia, saying the vote was rigged against the former president despite other high-profile Republicans in the state refuting such claims.
Those antics have led Trump’s orbit to distance itself from the controversial attorney as Wood finds himself in legal hot water. Wood is under investigation for voter fraud in Georgia after he told a reporter he had moved to South Carolina before November’s election, and he said in March that he would sue members of the Georgia State Bar’s disciplinary board for mandating he comply with a mental health evaluation to keep his law license.
“He's out of his depth. He has no idea what he's talking about or doing when it comes to potentially leading a party. And the more people are around him, the less they want to have anything to do with him, and that certainly includes running the South Carolina Republican Party,” said Rob Godfrey, a veteran Republican operative in the state. “His message has been strident and off-putting and wrong.”
Wood’s office did not immediately respond to a request from The Hill for an interview with him regarding his run, which was launched in March after moving from Georgia to the Palmetto State.
Wood has maintained his bid against McKissick is a furtherance of the movement Trump started and a necessary bid against a South Carolina establishment he has said is insufficiently conservative.
“They asked me to consider running because they felt like the establishment, headed up by Drew McKissick, was not being responsive to the people who make up the party and they wanted to and someone that would kind of turn it on its head,” Wood said in an interview with The Post and Courier this month over why conservative activists urged him to run.
However, McKissick has also positioned himself as a staunch Trump backer, even canceling the 2020 GOP presidential primary when the former president ran for a second term.
Wood’s argument has been dealt a further blow by Trump himself, who has publicly endorsed McKissick three times.
Trump gave McKissick a final boost Friday, the day before the convention, saying the two “have done nothing but WIN together.”
“I mean, there are some Lin Wood supporters who explain it away as, ‘Well that's not really Donald Trump.’ But Donald Trump has now endorsed Drew McKissick twice. How many more times does the president have to say who his favorite is in this race for it to get into Lin Wood and then others' heads?” Tyson Grinstead, Richland County GOP chair, said in an interview before Trump’s statement Friday.
Beyond Wood’s loyalty to Trump, Republicans in South Carolina who spoke to The Hill said the attorney’s anti-establishment message may fall flat in the state.
South Carolina Republicans are coming off a wildly successful 2020 cycle. Besides voting for Trump by a 12-point margin, the GOP reelected Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' MORE (R) by more than 10 points after a competitive challenge from Democrat Jaime HarrisonJaime HarrisonDNC announces funding agreement with state parties Democrats fundraise off of vote to remove Cheney from GOP leadership Democrats announce initial M investment ahead of midterms MORE, took back a congressional seat it lost in 2018 and expanded majorities in the state legislature.
“Lin Wood's criticisms are unfair, because you judge a political party by one thing: wins and losses. That's the byproduct of politics, is did you win, or did you lose?” former South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson said. “There's not a sense here that the party needs to change.”
Besides McKissick and Wood’s handling of past elections, South Carolina Republicans also have their eye on a future race: the state’s 2024 GOP primary.
Republicans there take great pride in hosting the first-in-the-south primary, which Grinstead said also lends itself to McKissick’s argument that he’s a steady party leader.
“The thing that makes South Carolina special and why we punch above our weight is because the first-in-the-south primary. So I think a lot of people understand that there has to be a stable, steady hand at the ship as we go into 2024 to nominate a president,” he said.
When all is said and done Saturday, Republicans expect McKissick will run away with his reelection — which they say will prove that Wood’s candidacy is little more than media fodder.
Dawson said he’s been inundated with interview requests about the race for chair but that Wood likely faces a low ceiling when the 870 party delegates cast their votes at the disparate convention sites Saturday.
“The press is going to have egg on their face. … The guy's going to maybe get 20 percent of the vote and try to claim victory,” he said.