COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina voters will decide Tuesday whether Republicans have their first woman nominee for governor as eight statewide candidates and eight U.S. House candidates head into a primary runoff election that could change the face of the state GOP.
Republicans also have four state House run-offs, while Democrats have one.
Republicans could make state Rep. Nikki Haley, who nearly won the June 8 primary outright, their first woman and Indian-American nominee for governor in a race with U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett. The winner faces Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
Along the coast, state Rep. Tim Scott had a big primary night lead in a bid to become the first black Republican sent to Congress from South Carolina in a century. Scott faces Paul Thurmond, son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who built the state's Republican Party on segregationist leanings. The winner faces perennial Democratic candidate Ben Frasier.
"If you had Haley win and Tim Scott wins the runoff, that would really change the image of the Republican Party in South Carolina," said Emory University political scientist Merle Black.
On Saturday, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Scott on her Facebook page, calling him a pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-development conservative. Scott said on his website that he was pleased to have Palin's support, calling her a trailblazer for the tea party movement. Haley's surprisingly strong performance in the primary was attributed in part to Palin's endorsement of Haley's campaign.
Haley and Scott have focused more on reforming politics than on their own race or ethnicity, but their candidacies come at a critical time as the GOP looks for minority supporters.
"The Republican Party long-term needs to be thinking in terms of diversity, and it's got to find new faces and be able to show they can pull from an increasingly diverse population," said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist.
Haley had 49 percent of the June 8 primary vote to Barrett's 22 percent and was 4,800 votes shy of winning the contest outright. Scott had 31 percent of the vote — or nearly double Thurmond's tally. South Carolina law requires candidates to gain 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.
Haley and Barrett aren't alone on a GOP statewide runoff ballot made long by a wide open governor's race. State law forbids Republican Gov. Mark Sanford from seeking a third term. That opening brought gubernatorial bids by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Attorney General Henry McMaster — both Republicans — and state Education Superintendent Jim Rex, a Democrat. They all lost primary races, but their departures to run for governor left wide-open contests that spurred statewide GOP runoffs.
In the lieutenant governor runoff, Ken Ard faces Bill Connor. Ard won 34 percent of the primary vote and Connor 27 percent in a four-way race. Ard is a Florence County Council member, and Connor is a lawyer and Army reservist. The winner faces Democrat Ashley Cooper.
In the attorney general runoff, Leighton Lord won 37 percent of the primary vote to Alan Wilson's 39 percent in a three-way race. Lord, 47, managed one of the state's largest law firms for a dozen years but never worked as a prosecutor. Wilson, 36, is the son of Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and served as Lexington County's prosecutor and worked in the attorney general's office. The winner faces Democrat Matthew Richardson.
In the state education superintendent race, Newberry College President Mick Zais faces small-business owner Elizabeth Moffly. Zais, 63, finished the six-way primary with 26 percent of the vote to 49-year-old Moffly's 19 percent. The winner faces Democrat Frank Holleman.
Moffly narrowly made it onto the ballot. She had failed to file a state economic disclosure form and shouldn't have been listed on the primary ballot, said Herb Hayden, the executive director of the State Ethics Commission. Moffly didn't file the form until Wednesday, more than a week after the primary. Hayden said the state Republican Party agreed to let her compete in the runoff.