State Rep. Nathan Ballentine of Chapin will return to the State House next year after defeating two challengers Tuesday in what had been a heated campaign for the Lexington-Richland County seat.
Ballentine, a Republican, beat Britton Wolf, a high school lacrosse coach, and security consultant Todd Watlington by a solid majority, according to unofficial election results and a news release from the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. The winner of Tuesday's GOP primary faces no Democratic opposition in November.
"Thank you for the overwhelming support! I’m humbled and honored,'' Ballentine wrote in a tweet to voters after the polls closed Tuesday night.
In addition to Ballentine's race, incumbent Republican House members Micah Caskey of West Columbia and Kit Spires of Pelion won their primary races, as did Columbia Democratic Rep. Leon Howard, according to unofficial returns. Caskey and Howard do not face opposition in November.
But state Rep. MaryGail Douglas, D-Fairfield, lost her Democratic primary race to challenger Annie McDaniel, a long-time leader in Fairfield County who has served as chair of the county school board. Richland County Democrat Joe McEachern also was in a tight race with challenger Kambrell Garvin and appeared headed to a runoff.
In one race not involving an incumbent, voters were picking a new Republican nominee to succeed Todd Atwater in the House representing Lexington.
Small businesswoman Paula Rawl Calhoon held a narrow lead over businessman Todd Carnes and a runoff appeared likely. Austin Bowers trailed. The winner of the Lexington County seat faces Democrat Diane Summers in the November general election. Atwater left the seat to run for attorney general.
In Ballentine's race, opponents criticized the 47-year-old for positions he has taken on taxes and for considering a run for the state Senate seat held by John Courson, who resigned amid a public corruption scandal. But election results showed him cruising to victory by a comfortable margin.
Ballentine said he had been the target of out-of-state interests who wanted to unseat him. Before election results came in, Ballentine said word was being spread Tuesday that he was dropping out of the race, which he was not.
"It's crazy out here,'' he said.
Ballentine, who first won a S.C. House seat with backing from environmentalists, drew praise Tuesday from the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. The group said Ballentine has supported efforts to promote alternative energy forms, such as solar power, which are touted as ways to save on monthly energy bills and protect the environment.
''Tonight is not just a win for Rep. Ballentine, but a win for clean energy leadership in South Carolina,'' the group's director, John Tynan, said in a statement. "Voters clearly and loudly reaffirmed that they support solar job growth, that they value leaders who work for energy reform, and that they want to break the hold that utility monopolies have on our State House.”
Caskey, who was opposed by longtime West Columbia-area lawyer Billy Oswald for the seat in eastern Lexington County, said he received plenty of feedback from voters over SCANA's V.C. Summer nuclear construction failure. Caskey has led the fight to rollback rates for customers who are still paying for the project. He said "outside groups'' had tried to spread word that he was soft on gun ownership, which he is not.
"A lot of people paid attention to the SCANA debacle,'' he said before election results came in Tuesday. "I don't have a crystal ball, but we are hopeful things will be an affirmation of the work over the last couple of years.''
House races, (incomplete results)
S.C. House District 41, Democratic Primary
Douglas (i): 1,896
S.C. House District 71, Republican Primary
Ballentine (i): 3,088
S.C. House District 76
Howard (i): 2,571
S.C. House District 77, Democratic Primary
McEachern (i): 2,019
S.C. House District 87, Republican Primary
S.C. House District 89. Republican Primary
Caskey (i): 2,078
S.C. House District 96, Republican Primary
Spires (i): 1,285