COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Voters chose former Attorney General Henry McMaster to be the Republican choice for lieutenant governor and picked both parties’ nominees to be South Carolina’s education superintendent.
Unofficial results Tuesday showed McMaster trouncing Mike Campbell by a 2-to-1 margin. Sally Atwater, the widow of legendary GOP strategist Lee Atwater, lost to Molly Spearman in the superintendent’s race. And Democrats elected their first African-American nominee for state superintendent, according to the Democratic Party chairman.
McMaster, 67, ran on his experience, saying he has the knowledge to get things done. McMaster was a U.S. attorney during President Ronald Reagan’s first term and state GOP chairman from 1993 to 2002 before being elected to two terms as the state’s attorney general.
McMaster also touted his ties to Gov. Nikki Haley, who had no primary opponent.
“I think the people of this state agree with me that our state’s greatest days lie ahead. I’ll stand tall with Nikki Haley and make sure our great state and its citizens take pride in our true potential,” McMaster told The Associated Press. “We have every asset. We have great potential. What we need is leadership and vision.”
McMaster brought Boots, his white bulldog, to his campaign celebration, calling him a secret weapon. Boots had appeared in McMaster’s television ads.
McMaster had a strong lead in the four-way GOP primary two weeks ago, taking 44 percent of the vote. But he needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Campbell, son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, actually finished third in that contest. But the 45-year-old small businessman advanced to the runoff when second-place finisher Pat McKinney, who received about 1,250 more votes, bowed out ahead of the expected recount.
It was Campbell’s second loss for the state’s No. 2 spot in a runoff. He lost against then-Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in 2006 after placing first in the three-way primary.
McMaster will face 29-year-old Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers in November. Sellers, a four-term House member, said he plans to draw clear distinctions for voters in the upcoming months.
“My opponent represents the status quo and is a decades-long career politician,” he said. “We have an opportunity to retire the ‘good-ol’ boy network’ in Columbia.”
Voters also returned to the polls Tuesday to decide both parties’ nominees for state superintendent of education.
On the Republican side, Spearman defeated Atwater with 57 percent of the votes. It was the first run for elected office for the widow of Lee Atwater, who engineered wins for Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, and then became national GOP chairman.
Spearman spent the last decade advocating for the state’s 3,600 K-12 administrators as director of the state Association of School Administrators. But her career began in the classroom, as a music teacher for 18 years, then two years as an assistant principal. Her other roles include legislator, deputy superintendent and chief of staff at the state education agency.
Spearman had a slight lead over Atwater in the eight-way primary two weeks ago.
But Atwater’s call-in interview the next day with a conservative Greenville radio station, along with the host’s comments afterward, dealt a blow to her runoff campaign. Russ Cassell described Atwater to listeners as a candidate running on name recognition who is “clueless.” Citing the interview, which went viral, third-place finisher Sheri Few even called on Atwater to drop out and let her compete instead.
Few had been endorsed by the radio host before the primary.
In a statement, Atwater said the “tough night” followed a “tough two weeks for me and my family.” But she congratulated Spearman and wished her luck in November.
Voters will choose between Spearman and Democrat Tom Thompson for the next state schools chief.
Thomspon had about 59 percent of the vote over Sheila Gallagher in their runoff contest. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said Thompson has made history as the party’s first African-American nominee for superintendent.
“Tom Thompson will be a champion for our students and schools, helping every educator and student to meet their potential and excel,” Harrison said. “Public education is key for moving our state forward.”
Thompson, former dean of graduate studies at South Carolina State University, placed second in the four-way primary two weeks ago. Gallagher, former president of the South Carolina Education Association, had attracted attention by advocating legalizing and taxing marijuana to raise money for schools.
But Thompson called it reckless and short-sighted to link buying marijuana to quality education.
The Chicago native started his career in 1970 as an inner-city high school math teacher. Thompson came to South Carolina in 1982 from Wisconsin to be the first black principal of Winnsboro High School in Fairfield County.
In Chesterfield, Darlington and Marlboro counties, voters chose Patricia Henegan as their choice to replace state Rep. Elizabeth Munnerlyn, D-Bennettsville, who is not seeking a third term.
Voters in 11 of the state’s 46 counties also had runoff choices in local races.
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