SC runoffs: GOP education race; Tribute to the US Democratic Senate


South Carolina’s primaries end Tuesday with just two rounds of statewide voting, one for each party.

Republicans will pick their nominee for the open office of superintendent of education, while Democrats will pick their nominee for the U.S. Senate to take on incumbent Tim Scott as he seeks a full second term.

There are also six State House runoffs. Only one concerns the holders. Democratic Representatives Roger Kirby and Cezar McKnight were drawn to redistricting in the same district that spans three counties but is centered in Williamsburg County.


The Republican runoff for superintendent of education is between first in with grassroots support from teachers and educators and second best funded 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 votes to avoid a second round.

Maness got big approval. Republican Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, stepping down after eight years, threw her support behind Maness, saying she has been a teacher, knows what’s going on in schools and knows the legislative process.

Spearman had a similar career and was at times at odds with other Republican leaders, particularly on issues such as whether local districts could mandate masks to protect against COVID-19.

Many other Republican leaders support Weaver, who also served as chair of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.

Weaver raised more money — $327,000 to Maness’s $115,000 — but faces another hurdle thanks to a new South Carolina law requiring superintendents of education to have at least a master’s degree. Weaver doesn’t have one, but launched a program in April. Election officials said there was no precedent for what would happen if she won in November without an advanced degree. Maness responds to qualifying.

The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face Democrat Lisa Ellis, a high school English teacher who founded the social media group SC for Ed. Hundreds of teachers have joined the group, calling for improvements in education, higher salaries and better salaries for teachers. The group brought 10,000 people to gather at the Statehouse, one of the biggest crowds in 20 years.

Ellis raised just under $15,000, according to state campaign finance reports, but won the three-way Democratic primary without a runoff.


McKnight and Kirby run again in the primary, but this time the winner likely goes to the Statehouse because no Republicans have shown up to run in the general election.

McKnight won on June 14 by seven votes out of 5,557 votes. A third candidate threw the race into a runoff.

McKnight represented much of the district for eight years from his Kingstree anchor, but dwindling population in rural South Carolina drew Kirby to 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 South Carolina’s other five House races, four Republican ballots and one involving Democrats will decide candidates 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 House’s 124 members are also not up for re-election.


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