Republican Richard Cash won the South Carolina District 3 special election Tuesday, despite a last-minute, write-in effort waged on behalf of former Pendleton Mayor Carol Burdette.
Cash, who was the only candidate on the ballot, received 82 percent of the votes cast Tuesday in the district covering northern Anderson County, according to unofficial results. The other 18 percent of the ballots were write-in votes.
Burdette received 611 of the 679 write-in votes cast Tuesday. Among the others, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Donald Trump each received one write-in vote.
Only about 5 percent of nearly 73,000 registered voters in District 3 took part in Tuesday's special election.
A Powdersville businessman, Cash is an outspoken anti-abortion activist who campaigned as a lifelong conservative. He will fill the Senate seat that Republican Kevin Bryant gave up when he became lieutenant governor in January.
Although no Democrats ran for the District 3 seat, voters received an automated call Monday from South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson suggesting they cast a write-in ballot for a "moderate, maybe like Carol Burdette."
"I was born and raised in Anderson and understand that we don’t need radical folks like Richard Cash representing our communities," Robertson said in the call. "Enough is enough, and we know that Anderson needs good common-sense leadership."
Robertson said the automated call was in response to a mailer sent out by Cash's campaign over the weekend. The mailer from Cash's campaign said a "small group of Democrats could take the election" unless his supporters showed up at the polls Tuesday.
"Cash is a radical conspiracy theorist," Roberts said in an interview Tuesday. "We thought we would give credence to his hype."
The Independent Mail also obtained an email on Monday night in which Anderson attorney Candy Kern-Fuller urged voters to cast write-in ballots for Burdette.
"Encourage people to vote as late in the day as possible. We don't want the Cash people to have time to get voters out," stated her email.
Kern-Fuller said she wanted to prevent Cash from winning the election because he threatened her at a Greenville women's clinic about 25 years ago. Cash denied the allegation, calling it a slanderous "cheap shot."
The percentage of write-in votes cast Tuesday was more than twice as high as a May 2016 special election in state Senate District 4 that was won by Honea Path Republican Mike Gambrell.
Cash said his campaign reached out to its supporters with three automated calls since Saturday, including one on Monday featuring a message from South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick.
"We did what we needed to do to finish the race," said Cash as he tracked results in the county annex building where the votes were counted Tuesday night. "I don't think I ever reached the point of being anxious."
Candidates seeking elected office in South Carolina must sign a pledge "to abide by the results of the primary." Under state law, a political party can seek an injunction against a candidate who campaigns as a write-in candidate after losing a primary.
Burdette said she voted for Cash on Tuesday in keeping with her promise to support her party's nominee.
Asked about the write-in effort, she said, "I am not involved and I didn't encourage it."
Cash said he is "not accusing Carol of organizing this." But he also said the write-in effort for Burdette "is not surprising."
Burdette, who narrowly lost to Bryant in a GOP primary last year, received the most votes in the April 11 Republican primary for the District 3 seat, with Cash coming in second among a field of eight candidates. Cash then won the April 25 GOP runoff.
Cash received the most votes in every precinct on Tuesday except for the polling place in Pendleton, where 92 write-in votes were cast compared to 67 votes for Cash.
Tuesday's victory came after Cash ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2014. He will serve the remainder of Bryant's term, which ends in 2020.
Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the state Election Commission, said could not recall a write-in candidate winning a race for a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly.