Republican Molly Spearman and Democrat Tom Thompson won landslide victories in their party runoffs Tuesday for S.C. superintendent of education.
Spearman of Saluda easily beat Sally Atwater of Charleston, claiming the GOP nomination heading into November. Spearman and Atwater virtually had tied in the June 10 Republican primary, running first and second among eight candidates.
Victory also was easy for Thompson of Forest Acres, who entered the Democratic runoff as an underdog against Sheila Gallagher of Florence. Gallagher had a 10-percentage-point lead over Thompson in the primary two weeks ago.
Spearman and Thompson will join American Party candidate Ed Murray of West Columbia on the November ballot.
Spearman said she was humbled by the support she received.
“It was a grassroots effort,” Spearman said. “Educators across this state really came out in droves to support me.”
After a divisive GOP runoff that saw Atwater question whether Spearman, a onetime Democrat, really is a Republican, Spearman said her strategy leading into the fall will be to win over those who did not vote for her.
“I will be reaching out to the folks who did not support me, and try and gain their confidence, and let them know that they have my ear,” Spearman said.
Thompson said he will work with the Democratic Party to have a team strategy going forward.
“We’re hoping that the whole ticket will energize the entire community and convince them to come out and support the entire ticket,” Thompson said.
The ticket will be historic for the S.C. Democratic Party and Thompson, who became the first black Democratic nominee for education superintendent Tuesday.
Thompson said he was elated about his historic win.
“I have to thank all of the people who assisted in this endeavor, (including) all of the voters who expressed confidence in me to put me in this position and I hope to represent them well,” Thompson said.
Thompson will be on the Democratic ballot in the fall with state Rep. Bakari Sellers of Bamberg, who is vying for lieutenant governor, and Richland County Council member Joyce Dickerson, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Tim Scott.
“Black nominees on the Democratic ticket ... certainly may draw and attract a little more interest from black voters,” said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan.
In the past 20 years, Democratic voters have been “overwhelmingly black” in South Carolina, Buchanan said.
Buchanan noted November’s ballot will be historic for African-American candidates in both the state’s Republican and Democratic parties since U.S. Sen. Scott, R-Charleston, is on the GOP ballot. Scott, who was appointed to succeed U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, is vying against Dickerson to become the first African-American elected to the Senate from South Carolina.
The superintendent’s post is significant to S.C. Democrats because it is one of the more recent statewide positions held by a Democrat. Until last week — when former Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, became lieutenant governor — superintendent was the last statewide post to be held by a Democrat. Jim Rex won the superintendent’s job in 2007 and held it until Republican Mick Zais took office in 2011. Zais said in December he would not seek a second term.
As the November campaign unfolds, a planned state review of the Common Core education standards likely will be a central issue in both the Spearman and Thompson campaigns.
The new superintendent will be charged with helping rewrite those sometimes-controversial standards, which say what students should know at various grade levels.
Those standards, developed by education leaders and governors in 48 states, have been opposed bitterly by some conservatives who say the federal government coerced the states into adopting them.
The review must begin by Jan. 1, 2015.
Spearman has said her first priority if elected will be to rewrite the standards with S.C. teachers and instructional leaders. Not every idea in Common Core is bad, she has said, but South Carolina should set its own standards and testing based on input from parents, teachers and businesses.
If elected, Thompson said he also will work with education and business leaders to revise Common Core. However, Thompson said whatever comes out of that revision could have components that are similar to Common Core.