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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in South Carolina’s state primaries

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal and state lawmakers in South Carolina will go before voters on Tuesday in primary elections, where the latest skirmish in an ongoing feud involving a former Republican U.S. House Speaker will play out.

Voters will decide nearly 90 contested primaries for the House of Representatives and both chambers of the state legislature. Republicans’ grip on those offices is likely not at risk this fall, but one contest may further exacerbate a high-profile rift within the party.

Rep. Nancy Mace is running for a third term in the 1st Congressional District in the state’s Lowcountry along the Atlantic coastline near Charleston. In 2023, she was one of eight U.S. House Republicans to break with the party and vote to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House. Since then, McCarthy has thrown the weight of his political operation and fundraising prowess against the defectors and has backed challengers to unseat them in their primaries.

In April, McCarthy’s political action committee, Majority Committee PAC or “MC PAC,” made a $10,000 contribution to Mace’s primary opponent, Catherine Templeton, the former director of the state’s labor agency under then-Gov. Nikki Haley. A separate committee, American Prosperity Alliance, where a McCarthy ally serves as a senior adviser, has made contributions to a group called South Carolina Patriots PAC, which has spent more than $2.1 million to defeat Mace. American Prosperity Alliance has also made contributions to a group called the America Fund, which is one of the South Carolina Patriots PAC’s principal donors.

McCarthy backed Mace as recently as her 2022 reelection bid, but the relationship deteriorated quickly since the Speaker vote. McCarthy told reporters in February that he hopes Mace “gets the help to straighten out her life. She’s got a lot of challenges.” Mace responded in a fundraising video that McCarthy “lied to the American people” and that he is “a loser.” She has described Templeton as McCarthy’s “puppet.”

In addition to McCarthy, Templeton’s other supporters include former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Joe Wilson of the nearby 2nd Congressional District. Mace has the backing of former President Donald Trump and current Speaker Mike Johnson.

Other key races on Tuesday include the GOP primaries in the state’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts. In the 3rd District, a crowded field of seven Republicans is competing for the nomination to replace Rep. Jeff Duncan, who announced in January that he would not seek an eighth term. In the 4th District, three-term Rep. William Timmons faces a challenge from state Rep. Adam Morgan, founder of South Carolina’s version of the U.S. House Republicans’ Freedom Caucus. Voters in the 3rd District gave Trump 68% of the vote in 2020, while 58% of 4th District voters backed the then-president.

Further down the ballot are about two dozen state Senate primaries and just shy of 60 state House primaries. All 170 state legislative seats are up for election in November. Republicans enjoy lopsided majorities in both chambers.

The congressional elections will use district boundaries that have been at the center of an ongoing legal dispute over the representation of the state’s Black voters. In late May, the Supreme Court upheld a Republican-drawn map that drew Mace into a considerably safer district than the one she was first elected into in 2020. A lower court ruled in 2023 that the map discriminated against Black voters by intentionally diluting their voting power.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

The South Carolina state primary will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote results and declare winners in 88 races, including nine contested primaries for the U.S. House, 23 for the state Senate and 56 for the state House.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

South Carolina has an open primary system, which means any registered voter may participate in any party’s primary.

DECISION NOTES

In South Carolina, primaries with three or more candidates are subject to a runoff if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. If the leading candidate in a contest hovers near the 50% mark, the race might not be called until additional votes are counted. The AP will either call winners in races in which a candidate has clearly received more than 50% of the vote or, if no candidate has received a majority, declare that each of the top two vote-getters has advanced to a runoff.

In the 1st Congressional District, Mace’s vote performance in her 2022 primary will provide a good benchmark as results are reported on Tuesday night. That year, she and former state Rep. Katie Arrington each carried three of the district’s six counties, with Mace carrying vote-rich Beaufort and Charleston counties and Arrington more narrowly winning Berkeley and Dorchester. They split the two smaller counties.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

In South Carolina, recounts are automatic if the margin between the winning and losing candidates (or between the second-place runoff-qualifying candidate and a candidate who does not qualify for the runoff) is not more than 1% of the total vote. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 3.3 million registered voters in South Carolina.

In the 2022 primaries for governor, turnout was 5% of registered voters in the Democratic primary and 10% in the Republican primary. About 29% of Democratic primary voters and 17% of Republican primary voters cast their ballots before primary day.

As of Wednesday, a total of 82,724 voters had cast ballots before primary day, most of it in the form of early in-person voting. About 15,000 votes were cast by mail, about 48% for the Democratic primaries and about 52% in the Republican primaries.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the 2022 primaries, the AP first reported results at 7:21 p.m. ET, or 21 minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 1:14 a.m. ET with more than 99% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 147 days until the November general election.

By ROBERT YOON
Associated Press

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