Amid the analysis of blue waves and red triumphs in Tuesday’s midterm elections, South Carolina was largely an afterthought on the national scene. But voting in the state and locally was significant, with some key conclusions to be drawn from the outcomes.
1. South Carolina voters were very interested. A record number of absentee ballots cast in the weeks ahead of Tuesday was followed by a significant increase in voting on Election Day. More than 53 percent of South Carolina’s registered voters cast ballots in the midterm election, a total of more than 1.6 million of the 3.1 million eligible to vote.
The total represents a 10 percent increase in voters from the 2014 midterm election but it paled in comparison to the 68 percent casting ballots in the 2016 presidential election.
2. South Carolina remains solidly red, dominated by the Republican Party on a statewide basis. Even with the added number of voters, the breakdown of GOP and Democratic votes remained consistent.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster got 54 percent of the vote against Democrat James Smith’s 46 percent to win a full four-year term. The totals were much the same in races for other offices from attorney general to secretary of state, with Democrats failing again to break through in any statewide race.
The percentages from the 2014 midterm when Nikki Haley won re-election as governor were nearly identical. The Bamberg native now serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations got 55 percent of the vote, the same as President Donald Trump in 2016.
In Washington, five of South Carolina’s congressional districts will continue to be represented by Republicans, joining two GOP senators on Capitol Hill. Second District GOP Congressman Joe Wilson on Tuesday won a ninth full term with 56 percent of the vote.
3. Though solidly Republican, the state will have a strong measure of influence on the national level when Democrats take control of the U.S. House in January. Congressman James Clyburn with more than 70 percent of the vote won a 14th term on Tuesday. He is presently assistant minority leader and will be a strong presence in the new majority leadership. Though he has said he will not challenge California Rep. Nancy Pelosi for speaker, Clyburn could be in line for the position should Pelosi decide not to remain speaker through the two years until new elections in 2020.
Clyburn will be joined on the Democratic side of the aisle by a new face from South Carolina. Joe Cunningham of Charleston will be the first freshman Democrat in the House from South Carolina since Clyburn won his initial term in 1992. Cunningham narrowly defeated GOP nominee Katie Arrington, who upset GOP Congressman Mark Sanford in the June primary.
4. Democratic dominance continues locally. Orangeburg County voters cast 70 percent of ballots for Democrat Smith in the governor’s race. Democratic state Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Jerry Govan and Russell Ott got 71 percent, 66 percent and 72 percent of the votes respectively in Orangeburg County against GOP challengers.
And even in a state government and Statehouse dominated by Republicans, their re-elections are significant. Cobb-Hunter in January will become the senior member of the House and is ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. She has served in the House since 1992.
Govan has been in the House from Orangeburg District 95 since 1993. He will be the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus for the next two years. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Public Works Committee.
Ott has been in the Legislature since 2013 and holds a position on the House Agriculture Committee. He is also vice chairman of the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, with its particular importance now amid the debacle involving the nuclear plant in Fairfield County.
5. Orangeburg County mirrored the statewide trend of increased voter interest on Tuesday, with 55 percent (31,003) of those registered (56,385) casting ballots. That’s up from nearly 51 percent (28,396) in 2014.
As much as statewide races, a key component of added interest locally was the nine contested races for the new Orangeburg County School District board. Thirty-two candidates competed for the positions, seven winning election from single-member districts mirroring Orangeburg County Council districts and two new trustees being elected at large by all county voters.
Voters generally went for educational experience in deciding on trustees to begin in 2019 governing the district born of consolidation of the present three districts.