- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In a string of local races with national overtones, South Carolina Republican voters chose state Sen. Nikki Haley in the primary runoff to succeed scandal-tarred Gov. Mark Sanford and selected a black state legislator to run in the congressional district that includes Fort Sumter.

Mrs. Haley, a favorite of both “tea party” activists and national party figures such as former Govs. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, confirmed her status as a rising star by crushing Rep. J. Gresham Barrett by some 30 percentage points in the gubernatorial primary. The Indian-American candidate survived a nasty, at times personal intraparty fight for the right to square off against Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen this fall.

Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said in a statement that the Haley win “ushers in a new era of South Carolina politics and represents a growing new generation of Republican leaders from across the country.”

In the 1st Congressional District, state Rep. Tim Scott racked up an even bigger victory margin in his bid to become the first black Republican in the House of Representatives since Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma retired in 2003.

Mr. Scott, who also benefited from strong support from national party leaders, had an unexpectedly easy time of it against Charleston County Commissioner Paul Thurmond, the 34-year-old son of former Sen. Strom Thurmond, a one-time segregationist who evolved into one of the state’s most influential political figures.

Mr. Scott will face Democrat Ben Frasier, who also is black, in November. The Republican is the strong early favorite to hold the open seat that has been in GOP hands for 30 years.

And in the state’s 4th District, moderate six-term GOP Rep. Bob Inglis became the latest incumbent to fall this primary season, losing badly to Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gordon, a “tea party” favorite. Mr. Inglis’ 2008 vote in favor of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan in 2008 proved to be a key issue in the race.

The South Carolina races were the political highlight of a night in which voters in North Carolina, Mississippi and Utah also picked candidates ahead of the November midterm elections.

In the top Democratic contest of the evening, North Carolina state Secretary of State Elaine Marshall overcame doubts by national party leaders to defeat former state Sen. Cal Cunningham. Ms. Marshall earned the right to challenge freshman Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr in November, although the Republican is favored to hold the seat.

Even before the final results were announced, the anti-establishment tea party movement was poised to have one of its best nights of the primary season so far.

Mrs. Haley narrowly missed winning the primary nod outright two weeks ago against Mr. Barrett and two other male rivals, including Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. She survived intensive press coverage of charges of marital infidelity spread by rivals during the campaign, and is already being mentioned as a possible contender for a place of the GOP presidential ticket in the coming years.

With GOP leaders seeking to expand the party’s base, Mr. Scott received support and campaign cash from a number of national Republican figures, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. He and Mr. Thurmond were battling to succeed retiring Republican incumbent Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr.

In Utah, tea party activists could claim a scalp even before the run-off voting began for the Republican Senate nomination.

Conservative activists and local tea party groups in Utah have already toppled three-term Republican Sen. Robert F. Bennett, and the runoff contest features two candidates business executive Tim Bridgewater and lawyer Mike Lee who have been vying for the endorsement of local tea party activists ever since.

Results of the race were not available at deadline. But whoever wins will be heavily favored to hold the seat for Republicans in November.

Mr. Bennett, who failed to qualify for the runoff last month, has endorsed Mr. Bridgewater, while Mr. Lee received the backing of FreedomWorks, the influential anti-spending Club for Growth and conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican. Many of Mr. Lee’s backers are using Mr. Bennett’s endorsement as a mark against Mr. Bridgewater, and polls suggest the vote could be close.

Tuesday’s vote marks the end of a busy month of primaries around the nation, with a summer lull in store. Just two states, Georgia (July 20) and Oklahoma (July 27) will stage primaries over the next six weeks. Twelve states will hold primaries over the four weeks beginning Aug. 3.

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