Katrina Shealy upended Lexington County politics Tuesday, ousting legendary state Sen. Jake Knotts to become the only woman in the state Senate.
Shealy’s win was remarkable in that she beat Knotts in a district that the Republican incumbent drew for himself. Shealy also won despite getting tossed off the Republican primary ballot, along with about 200 other candidates, for not filing the proper paperwork.
But Shealy fought her way back into the general election as a petition candidate. Still, her victory was a long shot, given that she had to overcome the deluge of straight-Republican Party ticket voting that occurs in each presidential election year.
The state Republican Party suspended its rules so it could endorse Shealy – an unprecedented move, especially against a sitting Republican. And a political action committee affiliated with GOP Gov. Nikki Haley poured money into the race for Shealy to defeat Knotts, a Haley critic and opponent.
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Knotts, while beloved by many for his constituent services, was unable to overcome several high-profile stumbles, including a fine by the Senate Ethics Commission for violating state ethics laws and referring to Haley, then a candidate for governor, as a “rag head.”
Attempts to reach Knotts and Shealy were unsuccessful Tuesday night. However, Knotts was the only incumbent state senator who appeared headed to defeat.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and Senate Ethics Committee chairman Wes Hayes, R-York, both defeated well-funded petition candidates.
Elsewhere, Democrats and Republicans were mostly able to hold on to their turf.
• In Lexington, Democratic state Sen. Nikki Setzler defeated Republican challenger Deedee Vaughters.
• In Sumter County, Democrat Thomas McElveen was leading Republican Tony Barwick to succeed retiring Sen. Phil Leventis, a 31-year Democratic veteran of the state Senate.
• In Charleston, Paul Thurmond – son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond – was leading Democrat Paul Tinkler to hold Senate District 41 for the Republicans.
• Republicans picked up a seat in Horry County, with Republican Greg Hembree defeating Democrat Butch Johnson.
In Richland County, state Sen. John Courson was leading Democratic challenger Robert Rikard.