SC runoffs: GOP education race; Democratic US Senate nod
South Carolina's primaries end Tuesday with only two statewide runoffs, one for each party.
Republicans will choose their candidate for the open Education Superintendent office, while Democrats choose their nominee for U.S. Senate to take on incumbent Tim Scott as he seeks a second full term.
There also are six state House runoffs. Only one involves incumbents. Democratic Reps. Roger Kirby and Cezar McKnight were drawn through redistricting into the same district that stretches across three counties but is centered in Williamsburg County.
The Republican runoff for education superintendent is between the first-place finisher with grassroot support from teachers and educators and the better financed second-place finisher with support from the party establishment.
Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director Kathy Maness won 31% of the vote in the six candidate race on June 14, while conservative think tank CEO Ellen Weaver finished second with 23%. A candidate needs a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Maness secured one big endorsement. Republican Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, leaving the job after eight years, threw her support behind Maness, saying she has been a teacher, knows what goes on in schools and is familiar with the legislative process.
Spearman had a similar career track and 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.
Many other Republican leaders are backing Weaver, who also spent time as chairwoman of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.
Weaver has raised more money — $327,000 to Maness' $115,000 — but faces another hurdle thanks to a new South Carolina law requiring education superintendents to have at least a master's degree. Weaver doesn't have one, but started a program in April. Election officials said there is no precedent for what happens if she wins in November without an advanced degree. Maness meets the qualification.
Tuesday's runoff winner will face Democrat Lisa Ellis, a high school English teacher who founded the group SC for Ed on social media. Hundreds of teachers joined the group, calling for education improvements and higher pay and better treatment for teachers. The group brought 10,000 people to rally at the Statehouse, one of the biggest crowds of the past 20 years.
Ellis has raised just under $15,000, according to state campaign finance reports, but won the three-way Democratic primary without a runoff.
McKnight and Kirby basically get to run primary night over again, but this time the winner likely returns to the Statehouse because no Republicans filed to run in the general election.
McKnight won on June 14 by seven votes out of the 5,557 cast. A third candidate threw the race into a runoff.
McKnight has represented much of the district for eight years from its anchor of Kingstree, but dwindling population in South Carolina's rural areas drew Kirby into the district when new lines were approved this year. Kirby is from Lake City and has been in the House as long as McKnight.
In the other five South Carolina House races, four Republican runoffs and one involving Democrats will decide nominees for open seats already controlled by their parties.
Six Republican House incumbents lost primary races earlier this month and a seventh Democratic incumbent lost after her district was combined with another House member. About a dozen of the 124 members of the House also aren't running for reelection.