COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democrats in South Carolina get another shot at loosening the firm grasp Republicans have on statewide politics as voting ends Tuesday for the 2022 midterm elections.
But it’s likely to be a tough fight. Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in 16 years, have candidates in just four of the eight races on ballots across South Carolina, and face well-financed and Republican establishment-supported challengers in all of them.
Three of the Republicans are incumbents, with Gov. Henry McMaster at the top of the ticket.
Since the turn of the century, Republicans have taken on Democrats in 39 statewide races in South Carolina and won 36 of them. The closest race since Democratic Education Superintendent Jim Rex had the last win for his party in 2006 was the 2010 governor’s race that Nikki Haley won by 4.5 percentage points.
The Democrats did flip a U.S. House seat in the coastal 1st District in 2018, but it flipped back to Republicans in 2020.
McMaster faces Joe Cunningham, who is trying to reverse the fortune of Democrats in South Carolina by running a different kind of campaign.
Cunningham, 40, wants to end the state income tax, legalize marijuana and sports betting and has criticized McMaster for not suspending the state gas tax when fuel prices rose. Days before the election, he promised to offer half the Cabinet jobs in his administration to Republicans because diversity of ideas is important to him.
Cunningham also has hammered the age difference between himself and McMaster, 75.
McMaster, governor since January 2017, is largely running on his record. He touts an income tax cut passed this year, work to expand interstates and improve highways across the state and a booming economy that survived the COVID-19 shutdown.
Democrats hope the debate debate over abortion may change their fortunes. Cunningham has campaigned on vetoing any further restrictions on abortion passed by the General Assembly, which is dominated by Republicans but falls just short of a two-thirds majority that could override his veto.
The candidates debated just once, with McMaster saying if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its ruling allowing gay marriage across the country, he would support a ban on same sex marriage that remains in the South Carolina constitution.
“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think marriage ought to be between a man and a woman,” McMaster said at the Oct. 26 debate, adding he doesn’t care who anyone loves, but “marriage is a special institution.”
Cunningham said that stance shows how out of touch McMaster is after four decades in politics. “It’s 2022, and Gov. McMaster wants to ban same-sex marriage,” he said.
Since July 1, McMaster’s campaign has spent $3.2 million, while Cunningham’s campaign has spent $1.3 million, according to spending reports with the South Carolina ethics commission.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is seeking a second, full six-year term against Democratic state Rep. Krystle Matthews.
Scott did not agree to a debate in a mostly low-key campaign. He has spent much of 2022 helping other Republicans around the country.
Scott has promised his second full term will be his last in the U.S. Senate, but has been coy about whether he plans to run for other offices, including president.
Scott has spent nearly $27 million on his campaign since the start of 2021, while Matthews has spent about $90,000 since announcing her run earlier this year, according to federal reports.
Matthews also is running for a third term in the South Carolina House, but Republican-dominated redistricting put more likely GOP voters into her district in Berkeley and Charleston counties.
Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace hopes to use a little help from her party’s redistricting efforts to keep the 1st District from flipping parties for a third election.
Mace faces Democratic pediatrician Annie Andrews in the district that stretches from Hilton Head Island to Charleston.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly redrew U.S. House maps after the 2020 Census and removed some traditionally Democratic voters from the rapidly growing 1st District.
Joseph Oddo also is running from the Alliance Party.
South Carolina is guaranteed to have one new congressman among its seven U.S. representatives. Republican state Rep. Russell Fry defeated incumbent Tom Rice in the primary after Rice voted to impeach president Donald Trump. Fry faces Army veteran and Democratic challenger Daryl Scott in the 7th District which runs from Myrtle Beach to Charleston.
U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the state’s lone congressional Democrat, is running for a 16th term. He is facing Republican attorney Duke Buckner in the 6th District, a majority-minority district from Charleston to Columbia.
Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, first elected in 2001, faces Democratic business owner Judd Larkins in the 2nd District, which includes Columbia’s western suburbs and Aiken.
In the 5th District, which runs from Rock Hill to Sumter, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, first elected in 2017, faces Democratic real estate agent Evangeline Hundley and Larry Gaither of the Green Party.
Two Republican incumbents have no opposition on the ballot.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan is seeking a seventh term in the 3rd District, which covers the northwest part of South Carolina.
U.S. Rep. William Timmons is running for a third term in the 4th District, which includes Greenville and Spartanburg. Independent candidate Lee Turner, who has run as a Democrat in other races, has an organized write-in campaign.
Democrats are contesting two other statewide offices.
The only open seat is state Education Superintendent, where Republican Ellen Weaver faces Democrat Lisa Ellis.
Weaver is enthusiastically supported by the Republican establishment. Her campaign has spent $800,000 so far through the primary and general election with other outside political committees also contributing heavily toward her election.
Weaver backs any school choice proposal the Republican-dominated General Assembly will send her. She is a conservative think tank CEO and chairwoman of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.
But Weaver only obtained the master’s degree required for the superintendent job last month after what she said was an intensive program of about six months. Democrats and others haven’t said if they will challenge Weaver’s qualifications if she wins.
Ellis is a high school English teacher with more than two decades of classroom experience. She founded the teacher group SC for Ed on social media, calling for education improvements, higher pay and better treatment for teachers.
Ellis said South Carolina needs someone with actual education experience to replace outgoing Republican Molly Spearman in the state’s top education job. Her campaign has spent just over $200,000 this year.
The other statewide race pitting a Democrat against an incumbent Republican has Secretary of State Mark Hammond seeking a sixth term against challenger Rosemounda Peggy Butler.
Republican Treasurer Curtis Loftis is seeking a fourth term against Alliance Party candidate Sarah Work, while Republican Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers is seeking a fifth full term against United Citizen Party candidate Chris Nelums and Green Party candidate David Edmond.
Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom is unopposed for a sixth term and Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson has no opponent as he seeks a fourth term.
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