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Crowded education superintendent race highlights SC ballot

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Six Republicans and three Democrats are seeking their parties’ nominations for South Carolina’s open state education superintendent seat — one of the most contentious and attention-grabbing races in Tuesday's primaries.

There are also primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, as well as a handful of U.S. House primaries and races in which several statewide office incumbents face challengers.

If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June 28 runoff. A look at some of Tuesday's top races:

EDUCATION SUPERINTENDENT

Both parties have crowded fields after Republican Education Superintendent Molly Spearman decided not to run again after eight years in the job.

Spearman sometimes disagreed with other Republican leaders, especially on issues such as whether local districts should be able to mandate masks to protect against COVID-19. That schism has continued into the Republican primary.

Spearman endorsed Kathy Maness, who is executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. Spearman says Maness has been a teacher and knows both the legislative process and how schools operate.

Many other Republican leaders have endorsed Ellen Weaver, the CEO of conservative think tank Palmetto Promise Institute and chairwoman of the state Education Oversight Committee. She also has the backing of previous state education superintendents Barbara Nielsen and Mick Zais.

Weaver has raised more than $325,000, an amount not matched by any other candidate. Travis Bedson, who owns a foundation repair company, has raised about $280,000, with most of that money coming from a $250,000 loan he made to his campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Bedson says South Carolina public schools need a business mindset to run better.

Maness has raised about $115,000.

Weaver and Bedson face another hurdle: Neither of them has the master’s degree that South Carolina law now requires of a superintendent. Maness does. Both Weaver and Bedson say they are working on the advanced degree, but election officials said there is no precedent for what happens if one of them wins in November without it.

Other Republicans running are Florence School District 1 Board Member Bryan Chapman, Greenville County School Board member Lynda Leventis-Wells and Lexington elementary school teacher Kizzi Gibson.

Competing for the Democratic nomination are state Rep. Jerry Govan, former Anderson County School District 4 Superintendent Gary Burgess and Lisa Ellis, founder of the teacher advocate group SC for Ed.

U.S. HOUSE

In the 4th District, Republican U.S. Rep. William Timmons is facing three challengers. Timmons is among the Republican congressmen who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results for Joe Biden and he has received an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. But his opponents contend he is not conservative enough.

Trump chose Timmons over Mark Burns, a pastor who spent two years going to rallies to speak on Trump’s behalf. The other two candidates competing against Timmons are George Abuzeid, a former adviser to the congressman, and retired businessman Michael LaPierre.

The lone Democrat in the race is Ken Hill, a nuclear power plant quality control inspector for the congressional district, which is anchored by Greenville and Spartanburg.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s only Democrat in Congress, is facing two challengers as he seeks a 16th term in the 6th District, the state’s only majority minority district, which extends from Columbia to Charleston.

Clyburn, whose endorsement of Biden is widely seen as the defining factor that led to the current president’s victory in the 2020 Democratic primary, faces chiropractor and insurance adjuster Michael Addison and charter school teacher Gregg Marcel Dixon.

On the Republican side, attorney Duke Buckner and consultant A. Sonia Morris are seeking the nomination.

In the 5th District, which runs from Rock Hill to Sumter, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman has no challengers in the primary. In November, he’ll face one of two Democrats currently vying for their party’s nomination: Kevin Eckert, a community organizer and technician, and builder and real estate agent Evangeline Hundley. Norman has been in Congress since 2017.

In the 2nd District, which includes the western suburbs of Columbia and Aiken, Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson has no primary opposition for the seat he has represented since 2001. His Democratic opponent in November is Judd Larkins, who describes himself on his campaign website as a “husband, a dog dad, a business owner, a college football enthusiast and a South Carolina native.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan is unopposed in the primary and general election as he seeks a seventh term in the 3rd District, which covers the northwest part of South Carolina.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Attorney General Alan Wilson is seeking a fourth term. He is challenged by attorney Lauren Martel, who said Wilson does more talking than fighting for conservative positions such as protecting Confederate monuments or fighting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. No Democrats have entered the race.

SECRETARY OF STATE

Secretary of State Mark Hammond is being challenged in the Republican primary by Keith Blanford, who wants to take the role of overseeing elections away from a board appointed by the governor and give it to the Secretary of State’s Office.

A bill that would make that transition was proposed in the General Assembly this year but never got a hearing. The Republican-dominated Legislature did overhaul election laws to allow early voting.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Rosemounda Peggy Butler in the fall.

AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER

Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers has two opponents for the Republican nomination: Spartanburg County Soil and Water Commissioner Bill Bledsole and Bob Rozier, who works in the farming industry.

The winner will face David Edmond of the Green Party and Chris Nelums of the United Citizens Party. If Bledsoe loses the Republican primary, he will run in the general election under the Constitutional Party. This is the last year that state law allows candidates to run for more than one party.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.