The primary battle is not over for two long-time Republican state Senate leaders, and two other senators who are fighting for third terms.
Sens. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, and Larry Martin, R-Pickens, were forced into runoffs by the results of Tuesday’s primaries. The senators face June 28 runoffs for a chance to hold on to their seats.
Sens. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield – both elected in 2008 – also will face runoffs in two weeks.
All of the Senate incumbents but Fair finished first in their races but failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote, needed to avoid a runoff.
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Runoffs can spell problems for incumbents, especially if they do not finish strong – close to 50 percent – or if they fail to get their supporters back to the polls for historically low-turnout runoffs, said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan.
A second-place finish for an incumbent in a runoff is a sign that voters are looking for new leadership, Buchanan added. “Barring some major political earthquake ... I'd say Fair is in some real trouble.”
State Senate runoffs
▪ Martin, chairman of the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee, won 45 percent of the vote in a four-way race for the District 2 seat in Pickens County. Martin will face former state Rep. Rex Rice, who finished second at 33 percent.
▪ Fair – a former USC quarterback and chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee – also is in a runoff after finishing second in a three-way race for the District 6 seat, representing Greenville County. Fair barely missed an outright loss Tuesday. Challenger William Timmons, a former prosecutor, picked up 49.5 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent plus one vote that he needed to win.
▪ Bright faces a runoff after winning only 38 percent of the vote in District 12, representing Spartanburg and eastern Greenville counties. Runner up Scott Talley, a former state representative, finished second with 27 percent.
Bright’s 38 percent could signal problems for the incumbent if Talley can win over supporters from Bright’s other challengers. Combined, those three challengers won 62 percent of the vote.
▪ Coleman won 49 percent of the vote in the District 17 primary, forcing him into a runoff with Mike Fanning, a nonprofit executive who finished second in the three-way race at 45 percent.
S.C. House upsets
▪ State Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, lost the District 22 seat, picking up only 42 percent of the vote to attorney Jason Elliott’s 58 percent. Gov. Nikki Haley credited Nanney with helping pass a new law that bans abortion at 20 weeks or later. But Elliott criticized Nanney, who sponsored the abortion legislation, for missing legislative votes.
▪ Three other House incumbents — Donna Hicks, R-Spartanburg; Doug Brannon, R-Spartanburg; and Ralph Kennedy, R-Lexington — also lost to challengers.
Bjorn, Black headed for recount
In the Democratic primary for 2nd District congressional seat, Arik Bjorn finished 49 votes ahead of former Republican Phil Black. With less than 1 percent of the vote separating the two, the race is expected to go to an automatic recount after provisional ballots are counted Thursday, said State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. The results should be available Friday.
A look at Midlands legislative races with June 28 runoffs:
▪ Republicans Micah Caskey and Tem Miles are competing for their party’s nomination for the House District 89 seat in Lexington County. GOP Rep. Kenny Bingham, who now holds the seat, is retiring this year.
▪ Ivory Thigpen and Monica Elkins are competing for the Democratic nomination for the District 79 seat in Northeast Richland. The two finished within less than 1 percent of each other Tuesday. Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, is not seeking re-election so she can run for the state Senate.
▪ Democrats Will Wheeler and Tom Drayton will compete for the House District 50 seat, which includes parts of Kershaw County. Rep. Grady Brown, the Lee County Democrat who is the House’s longest-serving member, is retiring from the seat this year.