Last night was the third in a series of candidate forums for South Carolina’s fourth congressional seat, and the definitive winner of the evening was James Epley, the businessman who served as the Regional Director for President Trump’s successful 2016 campaign. Epley was joined by 11 of his GOP primary opponents on stage at the forum, which was hosted by the Greenville County Republican Women’s Club. At the end of the evening a straw poll was held, and Epley found himself in the lead by a sizable margin. The results were as follows:

James Epley – 46
Josh Kimbrell – 30
Stephen Brown – 22
Lee Bright – 21
Dan Hamilton – 19
William Timmons – 13
Berry Bell – 6
Claude Schmid – 6
Shannon Pierce – 3
Justin Sanders – 1
Dan Albert – 0
Mark Burns – 0
John Mosser – 0

TOTAL:  167 Votes

One must understand that straw polls aren’t entirely scientific—the votes of the people in that room may or may not be an accurate representation of how District 4 is going to vote on June 12th. That said, it certainly helps to gauge how people who are highly interested in politics – as only those with high interest tend to come to such events in person – are feeling about the race.

There are, however, other factors to consider, such as the ability for a candidate to bring guests with them who in turn get to vote. State Senator William Timmons, for instance, appeared to have a group of 12 people who came with him to the event. Timmons’ result in the poll being 13 looks quite different once that information is taken into account, assuming that his entire entourage voted for him. To our knowledge, most of the other candidates did not bring sizable groups. Epley, like most of his peers, brought a handful of volunteers and his spouse.

While the poll results are interesting, the forum itself should not be forgotten. Candidates were given questions at random. Each question was written on a slip of paper and put into a hat before the event began. A moderator drew the questions one by one as they went down the line of candidates. This meant that no candidate could be sure what they would be asked and, for the most part, candidates did not get to respond to the same questions. Bookending these questions were brief opening and closing statements. Each member of this crowded field was given slightly more room to speak than during the last two forums, as one of the candidates – Pastor Mark Burns – was nowhere to be seen.

Throughout the course of the evening, it seemed that Epley was one of the most imitable candidates. He would mention his family and others would follow in similar fashion; he would praise the President’s negotiation tactics and his peers would quickly echo the sentiment. It seemed at times that his opponents found his ideas as palatable as the audience.

With a mere seven weeks to go in the primaries, it seems that this is still a hotly contested race. However, with enough performances like that of James Epley on Monday evening, that could change. All the same, we are almost certain to see the June 12th primary vote lead to a run-off in the fourth district, which would force the top two candidates to battle it out for another two weeks until the run-off election on June 26th.