Six current members of the South Carolina General Assembly failed in their re-election efforts Tuesday night. Meanwhile, a seventh is still hanging on with a tiny lead as his race goes to a likely recount.
Two state senators (both Republican) and four representatives (two Republicans and two Democrat) lost in what was otherwise a quiet night for much of South Carolina’s primaries. The six incumbents had a combined 92 years experience between them.
Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) conceded late Tuesday, hours after results showed him receiving only 20.5 percent of his party’s vote. Thomas trailed Clemson trustee and businessman Joe Swann’s 27.4 percent and insurance salesman Ross Turner’s 26.6 percent. Thomas, an attorney, had served in the state Senate since 1985. He was the chairman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee.
The House’s longest-serving member, Rep. Denny Neilson (D-Darlington), also lost in her primary. Neilson’s district was eliminated in last year’s redistricting due to population loss, putting her in the area now represented by Rep. Robert Williams (D-Darlington). Williams defeated Neilson 53 percent to 47 percent, ending Neilson’s career in the House after 30 years.
In a similar combined district, Rep. Bill Bowers (D-Hampton) held off fellow Rep. Curtis Brantley (D-Ridgeland) in the House District 122 race. Bowers’s district had also been moved in last year’s redistricting. Brantley is a retired school superintendent who has been in the House since 2007.
The loss by Sen. Mike Rose (R-Summerville) to financial planner Sean Bennett may have been the biggest surprise of the night among political observers. Rose is finishing his seventh term in the Senate (although he did not serve between 1999 and 2008) and has a reputation as a more conservative-leaning “back bencher” in the chamber.
Rose’s defeat was significant in that he lost to a more moderate Bennett, bucking a recent trend of conservative Tea Party-backed candidates knocking off GOP incumbents. Bennett grabbed 60 percent of the vote to Rose’s 40 percent.
Meanwhile, two House incumbents in the Upstate were defeated by challengers. Rep. B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens) narrowly lost to Ed Harris by 72 votes. A retired Clemson economics professor, Skelton has spent a decade in the Statehouse. Rep. Steve Parker (R-Spartanburg) fell by a much larger margin– losing to Spartanburg County soil and water commissioner Donna Wood 57 percent to 42 percent.
A third senator is digging in for a likely recount. Sen. Yancey McGill (D-Kingstree) and challenger Cezar McKnight were separated by only 82 votes out of more than 12,600 cast, according to the State Election Commission. McGill has represented the district for nearly 24 years. He is a real estate broker in his private life. McKnight is a Kingstree attorney.