The five candidates - four Republicans and a lone Democrat - vying for the chance to succeed Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer say the office still is relevant and can play a greater, rather than lesser, role in the state's future.
Bauer is giving up the post he has held for eight years for a chance to become the state's next governor.
State law narrowly tailors the lieutenant governor's duties as stepping into the governor's seat should it become legally necessary, presiding over the Senate and, more recently, administering the Office on Aging.
Still, the Republicans in the race - Florence County Councilman Ken Ard, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, former Insurance Department director Eleanor Kitzman of Columbia and former judge Larry Richter of Mount Pleasant - see everything from tax policy to education and economic development as issues for the next lieutenant governor to address.
(The winner will face Democrat Ashley Cooper of Charleston in the November general election.)
"I've never been a guy to follow a job description," said Ard, a two-term Florence councilman.
Ard acknowledges the limitations of the lieutenant governor's office while also dismissing them.
The state's second in command, Ard said, will have a "bully pulpit" at his or her disposal and, with it, a chance to join the governor and "go out and sell this great state."
Connor, a Citadel graduate and decorated Afghanistan war veteran, bills himself as a political outsider who thinks elected Republicans have not done a good enough job of managing the state.
"I am the only candidate in the race not tainted with elected or appointed office," Connor said. "Right now, there is a feeling in the Republican Party that, for the last eight years, they have blown it and have not held to their core, conservative principles."
Lawmakers have been debating whether to put the office on the same ticket as the governor, allowing a candidate for governor to choose a running mate.
The lieutenant governor's office also is under scrutiny now because, in part, some lawmakers see a potential $300,000 savings if it were shuttered. The part-time job pays $46,545.
But as Richter, who has been on state courts from the magistrate's level to an acting Supreme Court justice during a sometimes controversial and always colorful career, says on the campaign trail, the lieutenant governor's office is well-steeped in state history and law.
"The only person in South Carolina who can do less than the governor is the lieutenant governor," Richter said in an Aiken debate last week.
Richter said he favors "empowering the governor in this state" when it comes to government restructuring. He thinks the issue of having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket will "be solved in the coming election cycle."
Richter, however, expressed concern about a governor being able to pick his successor, should a transition of power become necessary.
The lieutenant governor in South Carolina is a member of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Established as an appointed office in 1729, the office later was filled by the General Assembly and became an popularly elected post in 1865.
Rarely has the office proved to be stepping stone to the Governor's Mansion, though. No S.C. lieutenant governor has become governor since the early '70s.
The June 8 Republican and Democratic primaries will mark the first time the office, which can be held by a member of a political party different than the governor's, has been vacant in eight years.
If elected, Kitzman would be just the second woman in state history to hold the office. She touts that she is the only candidate of the five running with executive experience.
In 2005, Gov. Mark Sanford named Kitzman director of the S.C. Department of Insurance, to fill a two-year unexpired term. Six years earlier, Kitzman had founded Driver's Choice insurance company.
"I'm running because I want to bring common-sense government to light," Kitzman said in the Aiken debate. Though she ran a state agency for two years, Kitzman said, "Government doesn't create jobs - not real jobs - only the private sector can do that."
Kitzman said she recorded votes on all issues in the House and Senate. Kitzman said she even would spearhead a drive to raise money to pay for an electronic voting board to put in the Senate, similar to the one now in the House.
Each of the candidates pointed to different reasons why the 2010 race is important.
"America is at a crossroads, and South Carolina is part of that," warned Ard, citing a need for the conservatism and optimism he associated with former President Ronald Reagan.
Richter said there is no more important issue in South Carolina than the well-being of its seniors.
"There is a fight for the soul and heart of the Republican Party," Connor said, urging conservatives to "stand pat" on principles.
Kitzman said, "2010 is a watershed election because by 2012, it may be too late to turn things around."
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398.