Republicans are hoping to flip the GOP Richland state Senate seat held by a retiring Democrat.
The race — between Richland 2 school board member Susan Brill, a Republican, and Democratic state Rep. Mia McLeod — is tight, based on a GOP poll last month. That poll said Brill was trailing McLeod by 3 percentage points with 16 percent of voters surveyed undecided.
“Picking up an additional seat, especially with someone like Susan Brill, who is focused on actually getting stuff done … would be a big help,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
However, Democrats say they plan to keep the seat blue.
“We’re going to win that seat. I have no doubt,” said S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, adding McLeod is a work horse, not taking anything for granted.
The race — for the seat now held by Democrat Joel Lourie — has divided Northeast Richland.
In the past, Lourie, for example, has contributed to both Brill’s school board races and McLeod’s legislative campaigns. This year, however, the Democrat has not endorsed either candidate, and his brother is a co-chairman of Republican Brill’s Senate campaign.
Republican Brill is running as a moderate, trying to win over Democrats in the district. But she and McLeod have sparred over national politics and the way McLeod makes her livelihood.
McLeod has called on Brill to denounce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, at the top of the GOP’s ticket, and Brill has criticized McLeod for accepting city consulting contracts, vowing she would never accept pay from another government.
Brill running as a moderate, McLeod on Democratic issues
While political neophyte Trump is at the top of the GOP ticket, fellow Republican Brill touts her 17 years of local elected experience as an advantage.
Brill also has been on Richland County Council, which, she says, gives her a range of knowledge about how the Legislature impacts local governments.
McLeod is appealing to the Northeast Richland district’s Democratic base.
Last year, McLeod received received nationwide attention when she introduced legislation to make it more difficult for men to get Viagra. She says she never expected the proposal to pass but introduced it to make a point about state government’s willingness to insert itself in women’s health issues.
McLeod was elected to the S.C. House in 2010. But she says she can have a greater impact on issues — from domestic violence to infrastructure improvements to public education — in the 46-member Senate.
“One of my frustrations about the House is that I’m one of 124,” McLeod said, adding being a member of the House’s minority Democratic Party makes it even more difficult to get things done.
Brill undecided on Trump
Brill is not embracing her party’s nominee, saying she is undecided about which presidential candidate she will vote for on Nov. 8.
“I am not endorsing anyone, and I am not running for president,” Brill said. “I’m not excited with any of the candidates.”
Brill said she found the Access Hollywood video of Trump “very distasteful,” adding, “I also feel that Hillary Clinton’s husband has done some things that are very distasteful.”
Brill said she voted for Jeb Bush in February’s S.C. GOP primary. Now, she says she tells voters to “vote your conscience.”
However, she said she adds: “All politics are local, and this local election is important to you.”
But, in a campaign email, McLeod criticized Brill for not denouncing Trump.
“Being silent about her presidential nominee, Donald Trump, as he continues to malign, manipulate and assault women all over the country is not only controversial,” McLeod wrote in the email, seeking campaign contributions, “it’s downright disgusting and tells us all we need to know about the kind of senator she would be.”
McLeod accepted government work
For her part, Brill has criticized McLeod for accepting consulting contracts with the City of Columbia.
“A lot of people have a lot of questions about that,” Brill said, adding, if elected, she will be “a full-time legislator,” not holding other jobs.
McLeod was hired in 2013 by Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson to work with a search committee tasked with finding a new police chief.
McLeod was paid $200 an hour, totaling $24,300 for work from November 2013 through April 2014.
After Skip Holbrook was hired, McLeod was hired to assist the new police chief. She billed the city $26,025 for work completed from November 2014 through June, when her contract expired.
McLeod says she did not nothing wrong in landing the consulting contracts.
Legislators who are attorneys appear before judges appointed by the General Assembly, McLeod noted. That is not a conflict of interest and neither was her consulting contract for the city, she said.
Senate District 22 race
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Family: Four children, four grandchildren; married to Dr. Alan H. Brill
Experience: Richland 2 school board member, former Richland County Council member
The money race: Brill had $69,332 cash on hand to spend in July, according to the most recent financial reports filed. She had raised $90,811, including a $10,000 loan.
Education: University of South Carolina, USC Law School
Family: Two children
Experience: Owner, McLeod Butler Communications; S.C. House representative for six years Brill is trying to win over other Democrats as she runs as a moderate in the district.
The money race: McLeod had $114,036 cash on hand to spend in July. She had raised $127,920.