Nikki Haley’s victory in a South Carolina primary runoff yesterday positioned the Indian-American to become the first woman governor of the state, where voters also are poised to elect their first black Republican to the U.S. Congress in more than a century.
Both Republicans are the favorites to defeat their Democratic opponents in the November general election in the Republican-leaning state.
“This is a state which has gotten tired of its reputation for religious and racial intolerance,” said Brian McGee, a professor at the College of Charleston. “People here see that as a problem of South Carolina’s last generation.”
South Carolina Republicans yesterday also made Representative Bob Inglis the fifth U.S. lawmaker to lose re-nomination this year. Inglis faced criticism within the district for his 2008 vote for the $700 billion bank-rescue plan and a 2007 vote against the troop surge in Iraq.
Haley, a 38-year-old state representative, defeated U.S. Representative Gresham Barrett, winning 65 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press. She faces Democratic state Senator Vincent Sheheen in November.
Haley’s campaign was helped by endorsements from prominent Republicans, including Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Haley also has support from Tea Party activists who promote limited government.
Haley almost clinched the nomination in a June 8 primary, winning 49 percent of the vote to Barrett’s 22 percent. The runoff was needed because she didn’t cross the 50 percent threshold.
The race to replace Republican Governor Mark Sanford inherited the same sideshow quality that surrounded his confession of an extramarital affair last year.
Haley, endorsed by Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny, denied allegations by a blogger and a former aide to one of her opponents that she had extramarital affairs with both.
In the state’s coastal House district, Tim Scott, a black state legislator, beat Paul Thurmond, the son of a former segregationist presidential candidate in a runoff for the Republican nomination to fill an open U.S. House seat.
With all precincts reporting, Scott had 68 percent of the vote, according to AP.
Thurmond, 34, is the son of the late U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist candidate on the States Rights Democratic Party ticket. During a Senate career that spanned almost 50 years, he served as a Democrat then switched to the Republican Party.
Scott’s win puts him on the brink of becoming the first black Republican to serve in Congress in eight years and the first black Republican to represent South Carolina in the House or Senate since the late 1800s.
The district -- which includes Fort Sumter, the site of the first military clash of the Civil War -- is currently represented by Republican Henry Brown, who is retiring; no Democrat has held the seat since 1981.
Scott, 44, will face Democrat Ben Frasier, a perennial candidate for the seat, in November’s general election.
“This is the most defeated candidate I’ve ever seen,” McGee, who specializes in political communication, said of Frasier. “If the Republican candidate doesn’t have any damage, it’s hard to see a Democrat winning this seat.”
Scott enjoyed the backing of some Republicans from outside the state who have been part of a push to diversify the party’s demographic base.
“These are exciting times for our party,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in a statement last night.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who both have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2012, were among those endorsing Scott.
In a House district in northwest South Carolina, Republican county prosecutor Trey Gowdy, 45, defeated Inglis, 50, in a runoff. Gowdy had 71 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting, according to AP.
With the loss, Inglis joins defeated incumbent House members Alan Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat, and Parker Griffith, an Alabama Republican, who lost primaries earlier this year. Senators Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, and Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, also were denied re-nomination by voters in their states.
Inglis first won his current seat in 2004. He also served three terms in the House in the 1990s.
In other races yesterday, Republican voters in Utah picked lawyer Mike Lee as the party’s nominee to replace U.S. Senator Bob Bennett.
Lee, 39, defeated businessman Tim Bridgewater, 49, and will likely become state’s next senator. Heavily Republican Utah hasn’t elected a Democrat to the chamber in 40 years.
Lee had 51 percent of the vote in the primary to Bridgewater’s 49 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to AP.
Bennett, a three-term Republican, was rejected for re-nomination at the state party’s convention in May. The 76-year-old Bennett endorsed Bridgewater after his defeat.
Bridgewater faces Democratic nominee Sam Granato, a small business owner, in November’s general election.
In North Carolina, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall won a runoff for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr in November.
Marshall, 64, defeated former state Senator Cal Cunningham, 36.