Only two incumbents lost their re-election bids in the South Carolina General Assembly Tuesday night, but one of them was a legendary Senate veteran.
According to returns from the South Carolina Election Commission, State Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) lost to challenger Katrina Shealy. Shealy, a Republican who ran as a petition candidate, received 51 percent of the vote to Knotts’s 44 percent. Constitution Party candidate David Whetsell picked up 5 percent.Shealy’s victory seemed improbable earlier this year after the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered her name to be removed from the GOP primary ballot last May over improperly filed paperwork. The lawsuit had been filed by one of Knotts’s former campaign staffers and resulted in more than 250 candidates’ names being taken off the ballot statewide.
Since the court’s ruling effectively gave Knotts the GOP nomination, Shealy instead filed to run as a petition candidate against him on Election Day. She had the support of many GOP officials and the state Republican Party even suspended its rules to endorse her.
Knotts is a legendary figure in the South Carolina Statehouse who was first elected to the House in 1994. Voters then moved him to the state Senate in the early 2000s, where he eventually became one of that chamber’s more vocal— and powerful— members. Knotts frequently clashed with fellow Republicans, most notably former Gov. Mark Sanford and current Gov. Nikki Haley. He even infamously referred to Haley as a “raghead” on an online talk show in 2010, although he maintains he was joking at the time.
— The only other incumbent to lose her re-election bid Tuesday was State Rep. Joan Brady (R-Columbia). Brady was the victim of her district’s changing demographics and of a strong campaign run by Democrat Beth Bernstein. Bernstein, a Columbia attorney, took 58 percent of the vote to Brady’s 41 percent. Brady had served in the House since 2005.
—- Republicans picked up a seat in the state Senate after 15th Circuit Solicitor Greg Hembree easily won the seat of retiring Sen. Dick Elliott (D-North Myrtle Beach). Hembree, who acts as the chief prosecutor in Horry and Georgetown counties, received 67 percent of the vote. Democrat Butch Johnson, a real estate appraiser, picked up 33 percent.
—- Two open Senate seats that had been competitive stayed with their respective parties Tuesday. Former Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond won a Senate seat once held by Sen. Glenn McConnell (who resigned to become lieutenant governor). Thurmond defeated former Charleston City Councilman Paul Tinkler 55 percent to 45 percent, a margin of roughly 4,000 votes. He is the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
Meanwhile, Democrats held the seat of retiring Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) after Sumter attorney Thomas McElveen defeated businessman Republican Tony Barwick by a similar 55-to-45 margin. McElveen is the son of Sumter mayor Joseph McElveen. Although Senate District 35 has voted Democratic for decades, Republicans thought they had a shot at the open seat. Gov. Nikki Haley even campaigned on Barwick’s behalf.
—- State Rep. Ted Vick (D-Chesterfield) hung onto his seat despite a majority of voters opposing him Tuesday. Vick took just 46 percent of the vote, but that was enough to hold off Republican Richie Yow’s 42 percent and petition candidate Phil Powell’s 13 percent. Vick’s seat had been seen as vulnerable by Republicans after his arrest on a DUI charge earlier this year, but he was able to secure all but 600 of his Chesterfield County votes through the Demcoratic straight-party ticket option.
—- Four current House members were “promoted” to the state Senate by voters Tuesday night. They were: Rep. Karl Allen (D-Greenville) replacing Sen. Ralph Anderson, Rep. Tom Corbin (R-Travelers Rest) succeeding fellow Republican Sen. Phil Shoopman, Rep. Kevin Johnson (D-Manning) winning the district of outgoing Sen. John Land, and Rep. Tom Young (R-Aiken) — who ran unopposed for retiring Sen. Greg Ryberg’s seat.
—-The House GOP Caucus will get its first African-American member since 2010 after Samuel Rivers, Jr. won the race for House District 15 in Berkeley County. Rivers is a minister at The Voice of the Lord International Church. He was unopposed in the newly-created district, which was shifted from the Upstate during last year’s redistricting process.
—- One House race in Horry County between two Republicans is headed to a recount. Mike Ryhal leads Dennis DiSabato by only 52 votes in the newly-created district that covers the Carolina Forest and Wampee areas of the county. Both candidates were among the 250 candidates removed from the ballot by the state Supreme Court. Ryhal owns an Italian restaurant and DiSabato is a commercial attorney. The South Carolina Election Commission will vote at its meeting next week whether or not to hold a recount.