South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan announced Wednesday that he would not seek reelection, a declaration that comes just a few months after the Republican’s estranged wife accused him of infidelity in divorce papers. Duncan, though, did not reference these allegations in sharing the news, instead writing, “At some point in a career, one needs to step aside and allow others to bring fresh ideas and abilities into the fight for Liberty, just as I have.”
There’s little question that another Republican will succeed Duncan in the 3rd District, a constituency in the northwestern part of the state (a region known as upstate South Carolina) that favored Donald Trump 68-31 in 2020. The GOP primary will take place June 11, and a runoff will occur two weeks later should no one earn a majority of the vote in the first round. The candidate filing deadline is April 1.
Duncan, who founded a real estate auction company, first entered politics in 2002 when he was elected to the state House. He sought a promotion in 2010 when GOP Rep. Gresham Bartlett left to wage an ill-fated bid for governor, but he had to get through a crowded field of primary foes in what had long been a conservative stronghold.
Duncan’s main foes in that six-way race were fellow state Rep. Rex Rice, who initially appeared favored to advance to the runoff, and businessmen Richard Cash and Joe Grimaud. Duncan snagged an important endorsement months before the primary when the hardline anti-tax Club for Growth backed him over Rice, who had alienated the group by supporting a cigarette tax. Each of the main contenders, though, campaigned as hardcore conservatives in a year when the nascent tea party movement was on the rise.
Cash unexpectedly took first place in the opening round with 25%, while Duncan edged out Rice 23-19 for the crucial second spot. The runoff, as the Swing State Project (our predecessor site) wrote at the time, pitted two “somewhat teabaggish” opponents against one another, though Duncan still stood out as the “institutional candidate.” The state representative prevailed by a tight 51.5-48.5 as Bartlett was badly losing his own runoff for governor to the eventual winner, Nikki Haley.
Duncan had no trouble winning the general election or holding his seat in the future, and he made a name for himself in Congress as an ardent social conservative. Duncan also took part in the annual congressional baseball game, and he’d recount in 2017 that he was leaving practice early when an unknown man asked him which team was training.
“I said, ‘This is a Republican team,’” Duncan detailed later, “and he said ‘K, thanks,’ turned around and it’s the guy they have identified as the shooter.” The gunman, James Hodgkinson, would go on to injure multiple people, including Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, before being fatally shot by the police.
Duncan also established himself as a power player back home by hosting his yearly “Faith and Freedom BBQ,” an event that always attracted presidential hopefuls looking to make inroads in this important early primary state. The congressman used that gathering to promote his image as “a strong advocate for life and traditional family values.”
But his wife of 35 years, Melody Duncan, saw their relationship differently. She filed divorce papers last September accusing the congressman of having multiple affairs, including one with a lobbyist, even as he publicly presented himself as a “dedicated, dutiful husband.”
One assignation, she charged, took place just after the congressman’s most recent annual barbecue (at which Ron DeSantis was the keynote speaker) when he allegedly went “directly to the home of his paramour.” Jeff Duncan responded, “My family is dealing with a difficult and private moment and I’m not going to comment on a deeply personal matter.”
The news soon faded from the headlines, but a new group called Restore Our Values made it clear it would keep reminding voters about the allegations. The organization began airing a radio ad in December that portrayed both Duncan and neighboring Rep. William Timmons, who has also been dogged by accusations of infidelity, as hypocrites. Timmons faces intra-party opposition in the 4th District from state Rep. Adam Morgan, but no serious Republicans had launched bids against Duncan before he announced his retirement Wednesday.