What to watch for on election night in South Carolina

November 2, 2020

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

The seemingly endless 2020 national election season comes to an end tomorrow night…or one day this week. Perhaps to be safe we should say “at some point after tomorrow.”

At least we should learn the winners of the Palmetto State campaigns for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, SC Senate, SC House and many local offices tomorrow, or in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

While every contest for every seat at every level is important for our democracy, every contest doesn’t have the same impact on the prospects for sound, freedom-enhancing policy.

For United States Senate, Democrats are hoping to pick off Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, which would provide leverage in their quest to take over the majority in the U.S. Senate. Republicans are attempting to take back the First Congressional District (Republican Nancy Mace vs. incumbent Democrat Joe Cunningham). Spending has been jaw-dropping in each and both of those races both are expected to be close. The other six Congressional seats are very likely to return incumbents. Senator Tim Scott’s seat will not be up for election until 2022.

South Carolina is one of the 23 states that elects all of its State Senate seats every two or four years. In the South Carolina Senate, where Republicans hold a 27-19 edge, there are hot campaigns for several seats. Republicans would like to flip Senate District 10 (Republican Billy Garrett vs. incumbent Democrat Floyd Nicholson) and Senate District 11 (Republican Josh Kimbrell vs. incumbent Democrat Glenn Reese) as well as up to three others.

Democrats have their eyes on Lowcountry seats— Senate District 37 (Republican incumbent Larry Grooms vs. Democrat Kathryn Whitaker), Senate District 41 (Republican incumbent Sandy Senn vs. Democrat Sam Skardon), Senate District 43 (Republican incumbent Chip Campsen vs. Democrat Richard Hricik), and Senate District 44 (an open seat with Republican Brian Adams facing Democrat Debbie Bryant).

Any slippage from the 27-19 edge in the SC Senate could cost Republicans committee seats and make it even more difficult to maneuver in the less partisan “deliberative body.”

In the House of Representatives, Republicans held a 80-44 advantage after the 2018 elections but have a number of open seats in play.

Republicans would like to flip House District 15 (where Republican Samuel Rivers is seeking to reclaim his old seat from freshman incumbent J.A. Moore) and House District 44 (where Republican Sandy McGarry is seeking to upend 2018 Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee and State Representative Mandy Powers Norrell). Another GOP target is House District 117 where freshman Democrat incumbent Krystle Matthews is being challenged by Republican Jordan Pace for a formerly GOP seat.

Democrats would like to flip the last seat held by a Republican in Richland County, House District 75. Kirkman Finley III is the Republican incumbent. The Democrat challenger is Rhodes Bailey. Democrats have also poured resources into the open House District 112 seat where Republican Joe Bustos faces Democrat Daniel Brownstein. Democrats would also like to keep the seat they flipped by Special Election, keeping Spencer Whetmore in House District 115. She faces her Republican challenger Josh Stokes again for the full term. A number of other House Districts in the Lowcountry are on the Democrats’ wish list and the GOP may have an outside shot at a couple others around the state as well.

Republicans should remain in the driver’s seat in the South Carolina House after the 2020 elections, maintaining strong majorities on most committees and in the chamber. Slots on the two or three most powerful committees will open up due to long-serving incumbents retiring this year. This will allow newer members to be “promoted.”

There are a number of interesting elections for county offices such as Sheriff and County Council, but a trend to watch may be School Board. In the wake of COVID-19, parents have been frustrated with the limited options being offered their children for the 2020-2021 school year. Will this frustration doom incumbents?

We hope this guide will be helpful to you as the returns roll in. Undoubtedly, we missed several “barn-burner” campaigns, but we will provide complete results for all federal and state offices on Wednesday.