Republican Tom Rice represents South Carolina’s newly created 7th District, a chunk in the northeast corner of the state occupied largely by his home turf, Horry County. A Palmetto State native, Rice appealed to voters in the growing region with his focus on business, conservative values, and a key endorsement from GOP Gov. Nikki Haley.
Growing up amid the sand dunes of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Rice spent every day playing on the beach. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father, a repairman, died when he was young. Rice worked every summer after he turned 12, busing tables at the local tourist restaurants. At the University of South Carolina, he studied accounting and volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He stayed at the university until he earned his law degree, returning home every summer to work at the beach.
Rice moved to Charlotte, N.C., after college to work for the accounting giant Deloitte. After gaining some experience on larger cases, he returned home to practice tax law and eventually open his own practice. He and his wife, Wrenzie, raised their three sons in Myrtle Beach, teaching them how to play golf, hunt, and fish. Rice also served on the board of the Myrtle Beach Haven homeless shelter, and during his 10-year term as president, helped it build a new, expanded facility.
His work as a tax attorney taught Rice how to understand numbers and how to run a business, skills he pitched to voters when he ran for Horry County Council chairman in 2010. In that role, Rice focused on rebuilding the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and bringing jobs to the county. He said he plans to bring that same focus to Congress as a fiscal conservative who believes in smaller government. “This country is in a critical state,” Rice said in an interview. “We have to change, or we will bankrupt ourselves.” To bring jobs back from overseas, he argues, the government must create a more business-friendly climate by slashing regulations.
In the crowded GOP primary field, Rice came in second against former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. His opponent, the eccentric conservative favorite, had come under attack for comparing public-school children who receive free lunches to stray animals who should not be fed. Bauer raised almost double the amount of campaign cash as Rice, including the $100,000 Rice loaned his own campaign, and slammed him with a wave of attack ads calling him a “moderate.” But in the runoff, Rice crushed Bauer, 56 percent to 44 percent, thanks to a powerful endorsement from Haley.
In the general election, Rice faced ex-Georgia state Rep. Gloria Tinubu, who had been the underdog in the Democratic primary running on a platform of union advocacy. Rooting his campaign in job creation, Rice added to his platform the issues of increasing military spending, protecting gun owners’ rights and simplifying immigration laws. He appealed to his Horry County base in the GOP-leaning district and earned support from the state tea party and the National Right to Life Committee. He also campaigned with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and veteran GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Rice said that while he is a conservative, he hopes to help address the current political polarization in Congress. “That’s the nature of it,” he said. “But I also recognize the need to come together to move forward.”
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