There is a runoff election Tuesday in the Democratic primary for South Carolina State Senate District #45, which includes portions of six counties and stretches west from Charleston to the Georgia border. This is the seat previously held by the late State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was tragically killed in his Charleston church in June. It is a solidly Democratic seat, so although the runoff winner will have to face a Republican candidate in the special election on October 20, the Democratic nominee is almost certain to win. The current composition of the South Carolina State Senate is 28 Republicans and 17 Democrats.
Two weeks ago, 11 candidates ran in the Democratic primary, and there were two clear leaders. Attorney Margie Bright Matthews finished 150 votes ahead of State Representative Kenneth Hodges, and both of them combined received over 70% of the votes; the other nine candidates split the remaining 30%. A breakdown of the voting in the primary by county is available at the South Carolina Election Commission’s website here.
With only two weeks between the primary and the runoff, there isn’t much new information. Pre-election campaign finance reports were filed by both candidates in mid-August, and nothing is required to be filed before the runoff. Furthermore, it isn’t likely that updated reports would show a dramatically different picture than existed before the primary. Ms. Matthews received almost $80,000 in contributions, while Rep. Hodges reported donations of just under $15,000, plus a $5,000 loan. So, who is likely to win on Tuesday? Here are my thoughts:
- It is remarkable that an attorney who never previously ran for elective office (Ms. Matthews) was able to raise so much money for this special election campaign. And I don’t know whether I should be alarmed that a five-term State Representative (Mr. Hodges) was outraised over 4-to-1 in this campaign, or impressed that he was able to finish within 150 votes despite being at such a financial disadvantage. I’m leaning towards the latter.
- In looking at the breakdown of votes by county, as referenced above, I think the geography favors Ms. Matthews. The county where the most votes were cast was Jasper County, which is along the South Carolina-Georgia border about 75 miles from Charleston. Although the votes were somewhat split among several different candidates (five of the eleven Democrats took about 10% of the vote in Jasper County), Ms. Matthews did defeat Rep. Hodges here by better than a 3-to-2 margin.
- Additionally, in the counties where the 2nd- and 3rd-most votes were cast in the primary (Colleton & Hampton Counties), Ms. Matthews was also very strong; her margin over Rep. Hodges was more than 2-to-1 in both. She won her home area of Colleton County with over 60% of the vote. Attorney Korey Williams, who finished third in the primary with 9%, won his home area of Hampton County, but Ms. Matthews was clearly second there.
- On the other hand, while Rep. Hodges took over 75% of the vote in his home area of Beaufort County, and also won Charleston and Allendale Counties, those locations were where the fewest number of votes were cast on September 1st.
- So in the three counties where the most votes were cast, Ms. Matthews did clearly better, which should translate into a significant advantage in a runoff which is likely to see fewer votes cast than the primary. I believe that Rep. Hodges will need to see an increase in turnout in Beaufort County, rather than a decrease, in addition to a much better showing in Colleton County, to overcome Ms. Matthews’ margins elsewhere.