Politics abhors a vacuum.
Nelson Hardwick’s sudden departure from the State House this week created more than a void in the District 106 seat. It sparked a buzz about who would replace the longtime representative from Surfside Beach.
“I’ve had a few calls,” said Robert Rabon, chairman of the Horry County Republican Party. “There is obviously some interest in it.”
Hardwick, 63, resigned Tuesday in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed a female House staffer. The married father of three had occupied the seat for 10 years.
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The vacancy triggered the need for a special election. Filing for the seat opens May 29 and runs until June 8. A primary is scheduled for July 28 with a special general election on Sept. 15.
So which names will be on the ballot? At least three Republicans confirmed they are considering a campaign and a fourth — Horry County Councilman Tyler Servant — said he will announce his intentions on Monday.
No Democrats have stepped forward yet, but local party leaders have been talking to potential candidates, said Joan Furlong, chairwoman of the Horry County Democratic Party.
“We are on this,” she said. “The state party is taking a strong interest as well. Horry County is often considered one of the reddest of the red and we are certainly looking for the opportunity to put up a great challenger.”
District 106 covers a swath of the South Strand, including Surfside Beach and Garden City. Among Republicans mulling a bid for the seat are Mande Wilkes, Russell Fry and Reese Boyd.
Wilkes, a 29-year-old writer and mother, narrowly lost to Hardwick in 2010. She doubts she will finance another campaign, but she does want to make her case for school choice legislation and a taxpayer rebate program.
“Probably not,” she said of another run. “But you know what? Yeah, I’m thinking about it.”
Fry, a 30-year-old attorney who is active in the county GOP, said he’s eyeing the seat, too.
“I am strongly considering that possibility and have been discussing that with my family,” he said. “I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Servant, a 24-year-old Realtor who is in his first term on county council, did not return calls from The Sun News. He did email a news release Friday afternoon stating that he would “end speculation and answer press inquiries about his plans relating to the S.C. House Seat 106 special election on Monday morning at 11 a.m.”
Boyd ran unsuccessfully against Servant for the South Strand seat on county council last year. Despite that defeat, the 48-year-old lawyer said he developed a base of supporters during the campaign. When Hardwick stepped down, Boyd said some of those backers called him and encouraged him to run for the 106 seat.
“We are considering it,” he said. “It’s still early.”
A day after stepping down, Hardwick changed his mind and tried to withdraw his resignation, but it was too late. Boyd said he’s heard the now former lawmaker may run for his old seat. If that happens, it would change his plans.
“One thing I can tell you for certain is if Nelson runs for his seat, I’m not going to run against him,” Boyd said. “I’ve heard that rumor, so the first thing I’m going to do is see if Nelson’s going to run.”
So will Hardwick enter the race?
His attorney says no.
“He has a really bitter taste in his mouth with the political system at this time,” said Henrietta Golding, who is representing Hardwick. She added that Hardwick has health issues “that need to be addressed immediately.”
Regardless of who enters the race, winning a primary during the busy tourist season will be a challenge, said Rabon, the local GOP chairman. Turnout is typically light in special elections and Rabon expects the summer traffic will make it worse.
“Getting people to the polls will be an absolute bear,” he said. “You almost have to have a bus service haul [voters] to the polls because it is such a busy time.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.