Republican Henry McMaster made history Tuesday by winning South Carolina’s last stand-alone race for lieutenant governor.
The former state attorney general defeated Democrat Bakari Sellers in a race that pitted the 67-year-old GOP stalwart against a 30-year-old state representative.
The lieutenant governor has been elected in South Carolina since the end of the Civil War, but that ends in 2018, when the governor and lieutenant governor will run the same party ticket.
McMaster, a Columbia lawyer, has pledged to get a head start on the collaboration promised by that combined ticket.
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McMaster lost to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley in the 2010 GOP primary but turned into one of her biggest allies. He endorsed Haley in the 2010 primary runoff, and she appointed the former state GOP chairman to the State Ports Authority and a special ethics reform task force.
Calling the lieutenant governor’s office the most underused in the state, McMaster promised to work with Haley on economic development and ethics reform.
The lieutenant governor is a $46,545-a-year part-time job. Its duties include overseeing the $40 million-a-year state Office on Aging and presiding over the state Senate. McMaster has promised to fight for income and property tax credits for seniors, start an anti-fraud task force with state legal authorities and recruit volunteers to improve senior centers.
“Our new day has begun,” McMaster told supporters Tuesday.
Haley celebrated her new “partner” in McMaster. “If you thought we were great the first four years, wait until you see me with Henry McMaster as my partner and lieutenant governor,” she said.
Sellers’ loss ends an eight-year stint in the State House. Sellers was first elected as a state representative from Denmark at age 22 before graduating from the University of South Carolina law school.
The Columbia attorney said he had no plans for his next race.
“I’m not going anywhere and plan to be here until we change South Carolina,” he said. “We will work to make the Democratic Party relevant again in South Carolina.”
Sellers remains a rising star in that party, in part because of the attention he has received from presidential politicians.
Then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama reached out to Sellers during his 2008 presidential bid, including Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the S.C. Democratic primary.
This year, Clinton supporters had Sellers, the son of S.C. civil rights icon Cleveland Sellers, host a Columbia event for the 2016 presidential hopeful. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another Democratic White House hopeful, attended a Washington fundraiser with Sellers.
Like U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican who won his election Tuesday, Sellers would have been the first African-American elected to statewide office since 1874. The last African-American to hold statewide office previously was a lieutenant governor elected during Reconstruction.
Staff writer Amanda Coyne contributed.