In a state where elections to the S.C. Legislature usually aren’t very competitive or even contested, Tuesday’s election turned up some surprise results that could shake up the State House.
Three incumbent S.C. House members lost their re-election bids Tuesday, including the House’s only black Republican.
Two of those long-serving GOP House members from the Lowcountry may have fallen victim to the same surge in Democratic voters that elected the state’s first new Democrat to Congress in decades.
State Rep. Bill Crosby, R-Charleston, lost his bid for a fifth term, as did state Rep. Samuel Rivers, R-Berkeley, the House’s only black Republican member.
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State Rep. Patsy Knight, D-Dorchester, was the third incumbent swept out of office in the Lowcountry.
Competitive legislative races are rare in South Carolina. Only 48 of the House’s 124 districts were contested by both a Democrat and a Republican.
Even rarer are upsets of an incumbent.
In part, the losses may be a result of shifting demographics in a fast-growing region of the state.
First-time candidate Krystle Simmons unseated Crosby. A single mother of five children who works at Boeing’s North Charleston plant, Simmons said she has seen change in District 117, which straddles the North Charleston-Goose Creek area.
“It’s not just one type of people moving in here because this is one of the more affordable areas,” Simmons said.
Simmons said her new constituents want their state representative to focus on livability issues, including transportation and schools. To address those issues, Simmons said she wants to lift Act 388’s tax restrictions on school districts.
Crosby, an eight-year incumbent, said he was “blindsided” by Tuesday’s results. He said Simmons is the only Democratic opponent he has faced during his tenure in the House.
Crosby had not met Simmons before Tuesday’s vote. On election night, he didn’t even have a phone number to call to congratulate her.
But, in hindsight, Crosby doesn’t think he should have been surprised by Tuesday’s results.
“A lot of people were coming into the area, a lot of apartments and houses being built, and we weren’t sure what their party affiliation was,” he said. “I campaigned for new businesses and industry coming in, and now I think that’s what beat me.”
Rivers, who has represented the neighboring District 15 in the House for six years, said population growth has helped his district.
“In the last four years, we’ve had 600 people (move in) who were registered Republicans in other states,” Rivers said. “But we didn’t galvanize them. They were not as motivated as during the Trump election, the Romney election or even the Haley elections for some reason.”
Rivers thinks he lost because of the wave of Democratic voters who lifted Joe Cunningham to a narrow win over GOP state Rep. Katie Arrington in the 1st District race to replace U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford in Congress.
“You did see increased Democratic turnout in the congressional race in places in Berkeley and parts of Charleston, even though Charleston has been moving Democratic,” Rivers said.
Rivers lost to J.A. Moore, the owner of a catering company.
Moore also credits Cunningham’s “very positive” campaign for pushing him to a narrow win over Rivers, who has held the District 15 seat since Tim Scott gave it up to run for Congress. (Scott now is the U.S. Senate’s only black Republican member.)
However, Moore says an unorthodox campaign headquarters — at a Goose Creek barber shop — also helped his campaign.
“Something I learned from my father, when I was 18, is to go where the people are,” Moore said. “I had people come in who had never been in a campaign headquarters before just to get a haircut.”
Moore wants to see the state raise the pay of teachers. He also wants Berkeley County to introduce a public transportation option to alleviate traffic concerns.
It wasn’t just Lowcountry Republicans who lost stunners Tuesday.
Democrat Knight, who declined comment, lost her S.C. House seat representing Dorchester County’s District 97 to Republican Mandy Kimmons, a former prosecutor with the 1st Circuit solicitor’s office.
Kimmons said she wants to turn her expertise in prosecuting juvenile cases toward problems in education, which she sees as the source of the youthful crime problem.
“I would get copies of (suspects’) school records and grades, and, sometimes, you could see the correlation with truancy and delinquency, things like that,” Kimmons said. “Getting a high school diploma can do more to keep you out of prison than even a college degree.”
S.C. voters more pro-Trump than public at large
South Carolinians who voted Tuesday are more supportive of President Donald Trump and more positive about the country’s outlook than the state’s residents at large.
A majority of South Carolinians casting a vote Tuesday — 53 percent — approve of the job Trump is doing as president, according to the Associated Press’s VoteCast survey. Forty-seven percent said they did not approve of Trump.
A poll of all South Carolinians — not just voters — by Winthrop University two weeks before Election Day found a less rosy view of the president. Almost half of those surveyed — 49 percent — said they disapproved of Trump. Only 44 percent approved.
There also is a divergence in how S.C. voters and all South Carolinians see the state of the country.
More than half of S.C. voters — 53 percent — told the AP they think the country is on the right track. The general public — all South Carolinians — is less optimistic, with 56 percent saying the country is on the wrong track, according to Winthrop.
President Trump was on most S.C. voters’ minds as they cast their ballots Tuesday, they told the AP.
About three in 10 — 29 percent — said a reason for their vote was to express support for Trump. Slightly more —31 percent — said they voted to express opposition to Trump.
However, 40 percent of S.C. voters said Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their votes.
Democratic flip denies Wilson his gavel
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, was re-elected handily Tuesday to his 2nd District seat in the U.S. House, representing parts of the Midlands. But the national election did not go his way.
With Democrats retaking control of the U.S. House, Republican Wilson now is out of contention to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee next year. While Wilson faced competition among his fellow Republicans for the chairmanship had the GOP retained control of the House, the 10-term congressman could have pointed to his years of experience working on foreign policy and defense issues.
Wilson still could become the ranking Republican on the committee — effectively the No. 2 congressman on the panel. But now Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is in line to become chairman when Democrats take over in January.
South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will be less affected by Tuesday’s vote.
The GOP increased its majority in the Senate, where Republican Graham could become the new head of the Judiciary Committee. That would put Graham in position to oversee any new judicial nominations by the White House. This fall, Graham was a vocal defender of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.