Advanced search
Decision 2024

Decision 2024: TODAY is primary voting day in South Carolina

For most Statehouse races it doesn't matter; however, polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm


For most Statehouse races, the ultimate winners are decided this month

COLUMBIA — Elections for just over half of South Carolina’s 170 legislative seats will be settled by the end of this month.

That’s because 80 incumbents seeking re-election and candidates for six open seats will have no competition at all in November.

And for a good chunk of the other half who will face a general election opponent, there won’t actually be much of a contest. Six races will feature only third-party challengers, according to an analysis by the SC Daily Gazette.

Plus, many other districts lean so heavily Republican or Democrat, something really extraordinary has to happen to flip the seat.

That’s why it’s so important for voters to participate in next week’s primaries and — for the contests not decided June 11 — the run-offs two weeks later, said Lynn Teague with the state League of Women Voters. (Early voting for the primary ended Friday.)

“The point that’s apparently hardest to get through to voters right now is everybody thinks November is the election. For most purposes, June is the election here,” she said. “The primary is where things get decided.”

Teague estimates that only 10 legislative races will be competitive this fall. And that may be an overestimation, she said. However, if turnout is higher than normal, more seats could be in play, she added.

Turnout is traditionally abysmal in primaries, especially when there are no statewide offices at the top of the ticket.

Four years ago — the last time all 170 Statehouse seats were on the ballot — less than a quarter of registered voters participated. And that was a year with a statewide contest on the Republican primary ballot, with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham facing three GOP challengers. (Graham got 68% of the votes.)

In 2016, the last presidential election year with no statewide contest on primary ballots, less than 14% of registered voters bothered to participate in the June primary, according to data from the South Carolina Election Commission.

That means Statehouse races are generally decided by a relatively small number of motivated primary voters.

“People who are very angry, who are operating at the extremes, are probably going to vote in that primary,” Teague said. “Whereas somebody sitting at home, mainly concerned about the fact they just had to have their car repaired because of all the potholes, may not pay attention to the fact an election is happening until October.”

In the House, there are 15 open seats with no incumbent running: 12 currently held by a Republican and three by Democrats.

In the 46-member Senate, there are five, evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, plus one Democrat-turned-Independent.

In most cases, who wins the primary for those 20 seats will decide voters’ next representative or senator.

In “South Carolina, most of the races have become primary races as opposed to general election races,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who is among 55 incumbent legislators with no opposition whatsoever for re-election.

His caucus is just one vote shy of a supermajority in the Senate. And, in senators’ first time on the ballot since the Legislature’s post-census redrawing of district lines, Republicans could surpass that. Who wins primary contests will decide whether seats are more or less vulnerable for a flip in November.

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said a better-than-normal turnout would likely benefit his caucus, but getting people to participate can be tough, especially in areas without a competitive primary for U.S. House seats or at least a local sheriff’s race.

Six of South Carolina’s seven congressional seats have a primary for at least one party.

The three U.S. House contests most likely to draw voters to the polls will decide whether Rep. Nancy Mace bests another Republican challenger in the coastal 1st District; whether Rep. William Timmons can hang on against a challenge from the chairman of the state House’s hardline Freedom Caucus in the 4th District; and who among seven Republicans wins a primary for the open 3rd District seat being vacated by Jeff Duncan. That contest is expected to head into a runoff among the top two vote-getters.

Freedom Caucus

In the state House, the big question is whether the hard-right Freedom Caucus grows or diminishes its ranks in its civil war with the majority Republican caucus. The 2022 elections gave Republicans in that chamber a mega-majority of 71% of the seats. But the chamber’s floor debates often devolve into GOP vs. GOP feuding.

The Freedom Caucus is trying to oust GOP incumbents to increase its influence, while the majority GOP caucus is trying to downsize the Freedom Caucus.

Four Freedom Caucus members aren’t seeking re-election, including two running for Congress in the Upstate. Eleven are facing GOP candidates in the primary. Only two are running unopposed with a guarantee to return.

Entering the fray is Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed three GOP challengers trying to oust Freedom Caucus members.

It is rare for McMaster, a former state GOP chairman, to choose sides in GOP primaries. It’s certainly the first time since he became governor in 2017 that he’s endorsed a Republican challenger to an incumbent GOP legislator.

As for why he decided to weigh in now, spokesman Brandon Charochak said, “Gov. McMaster has endorsed incumbents and candidates in contested and open House and Senate primary elections who share his conservative values and support his policies and proposals for prosperity for all South Carolinians.”

Asked if that meant Freedom Caucus members he’s opposing don’t represent McMaster’s values, Charochak responded, “you could read it that way.”

The three challengers he’s backing are Kyle White, who is opposing Rep. April Cromer in Anderson County; Adam Crisp, who is challenging Rep. Rob Harris in Spartanburg County; and Jason Shamis, who is running against Rep. Josiah Magnuson, in a different Spartanburg County district.

McMaster has also endorsed Republican incumbents in the state House who are trying to fight off Freedom Caucus-aligned challengers in the primary.

The running of campaigns to oust fellow Republicans is exactly what got the Freedom Caucus booted from the majority caucus after the November 2022 elections.

The House Majority Caucus newly required members to sign a pledge not to work for GOP challengers. Freedom Caucus members refused, keeping them outside of majority GOP caucus meetings since. A couple of Republicans left the Freedom Caucus amid the kerfuffle to stay with the majority.

The governor has also endorsed three congressional candidates, including Timmons in his bid to fight off Morgan, the Freedom Caucus chairman.

He also endorsed Sheri Biggs, a candidate in the open 3rd Congressional District, whose opponents include state Rep. Stewart Jones, a Freedom Caucus founding member. Biggs and her husband have also been longtime donors to McMaster’s campaigns.

McMaster also endorsed Mace in the 1st District over GOP challenger Catherine Templeton, who headed two state agencies during Gov. Nikki Haley’s tenure. Templeton also challenged McMaster in his 2018 run for his first full term after Haley’s 2017 departure to be then-President Donald Trump’s United Nations ambassador made McMaster governor. (Templeton came in third in that five-way primary.)

Trump too has weighed into South Carolina’s GOP primary races. His endorsement differed from McMaster’s in the 3rd District, where Trump instead backed pastor Mark Burns.

In state House races, Trump generally just backed Republican incumbents, which included Freedom Caucus members.

His statement on Truth Social praised the leadership of House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who is campaigning against Freedom Caucus members.


Abraham Kenmore is a reporter covering elections, health care and more. He joins the SC Daily Gazette from The Augusta Chronicle, where he reported on Georgia legislators, military and housing issues.

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.