Hardliner Lee Bright loses bid to replace Gowdy in Congress; Timmons wins GOP primary

Former S.C. state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg
Former S.C. state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg

Former state Sen. Lee Bright, the socially conservative Spartanburg resident known for his hardline political stances, lost Tuesday in his bid for a seat in Congress to replace retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy.

William Timmons, a state senator from Greenville, defeated Bright in the Republican primary runoff election for the Upstate Congressional seat.

The district, mostly in Greenville and Spartanburg counties, is one of the most conservative in South Carolina. But voters turned against the outspoken Bright and sided with Timmons after the 34-year-old lawyer had campaigned on a message of getting things done.

Like Bright, Timmons is a conservative, but said his opponent spent too much time grandstanding while in the S.C. Senate for eight years. Bright conceded the race shortly before 10 p.m.

"“I want to thank my wife and family for standing next to me during this entire campaign,” Bright said. “Throughout this race, we have received support from all parts of the district and even throughout the state. I am proud of the race we ran, and I congratulate William Timmons on his win tonight. I look forward to continuing doing whatever I can do to help advance the conservative agenda for the future of our nation and our state.''

A first-term state senator, Timmons in November will face Democrat Brandon Brown, who defeated Lee Turner in that party's primary Tuesday. Chances that Republicans will retain the seat are strong because the district in northwestern South Carolina votes heavily for the GOP.

He could not be reached immediately after Bright conceded, but Timmons said earlier Tuesday he thought his campaign had resonated with voters and he expected to win. He said he looks forward to serving in Congress.

"I'm going to work as hard as I can to win the general election, and after that, the real work begins,'' Timmons said.

Bright, the top vote-getter with 25 percent in the June 12 primary, never gained traction in his bid to return to politics.

Before Tuesday’s results came in, Bright said the key to the race was whether his base, composed of many religious conservatives, turned out. Many of those voters are in the suburbs and rural areas.

Bright, a 48-year-old businessman, is perhaps best known for his controversial stances in the S.C. Senate. Among other things, Bright fought unsuccessfully for legislation that would prevent transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice.

At one point, Bright said local governments that passed laws favoring transgender people were telling businesses “how to run their restrooms.’’ Bright also opposed removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, ultimately losing his bid for re-election to the state Senate in 2016.

Bright and Timmons, who owns several Upstate businesses, clashed before the runoff, much of it over their styles more than their political views. Both are big supporters of President Donald Trump and back policy initiatives such as a border wall with Mexico.

But Timmons ripped Bright for being what he said is too bombastic, seeking headlines with hardline statements rather than showing an ability to get things done. He also called Bright a failed businessman in a recent debate, referring to Bright’s once-troubled trucking business.

Bright, on the other hand, called Timmons a child of privilege who had not experienced the hard knocks he had to deal with growing up. In a recent debate, Bright said he didn’t have a trust fund to fall back on.

In the Democratic primary runoff for the Congressional seat held by Republican Joe Wilson, Chapin’s Sean Carrigan was headed to victory in his race with Columbia lawyer Annabelle Robertson, a self-described progressive. Like most other Congressional races in South Carolina, the district is heavily Republican. It includes much of Aiken County and Lexington County, as well as part of Richland County.

The race was contentious, with Robertson calling Carrigan a sexist, a characterization he hotly denied. Carrigan called Robertson a socialist, according to the Free Times.

In the other Congressional runoff Tuesday in South Carolina, Robert Williams led Mal Hyman in the Democratic primary in the 7th District. The winner faces incumbent Republican Tom Rice in November. The district is in eastern South Carolina and includes the Myrtle Beach-Florence area.

Congressional races (incomplete results)

4th District, Republican runoff

Lee Bright: 21,496

William Timmons: 25,377

4th District, Democratic runoff

Lee Turner: 3,022

Brandon Brown: 5,521

2nd District, Democratic runoff

Sean Carrigan: 5,144

Annabelle Robertson: 4,533

7th District, Democratic runoff

Mal Hyman: 5,995

Robert Williams: 7,107