COLUMBIA — The former Republican nominee for the Senate seat long held by Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell is in a runoff to be the nominee again, but the state Supreme Court could declare the do-over primary invalid.
Former Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s GOP primary but failed to win the three-way contest outright. He received 43 percent of more than 3,600 votes cast, while Sen. Walter Hundley – who’s had the job just two months – received 37 percent.
A runoff is planned Oct. 2. If it proceeds, the winner would face Democrat Paul Tinkler in November.
The son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond was thrown off the ballot last month when a judge ruled Thurmond did not properly submit paperwork to be a candidate in the June primary. The judge ordered a special primary, but that decision is being appealed.
If it stands, hundreds more who were taken off ballots could sue, again tossing South Carolina’s elections into chaos.
The state Election Commission joined the appeal, arguing Thurmond should be treated the same as other decertified candidates.
The first part of the ruling meant Thurmond was never officially a candidate. Therefore, a law allowing a special primary when candidates are disqualified doesn’t apply, said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.
“That’s consistent with what we’ve been telling the parties all along,” Whitmire said. “We thought that was clear.”
State Supreme Court decisions in May and June on improperly filed paperwork resulted in nearly 250 candidates statewide being booted from June 12 primary ballots.
Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties were allowed to reopen filing for any of those races. Allowing an exception for Thurmond presents the “possibility of 200-plus other lawsuits from other candidates in the same situation,” Whitmire said.
Those tossed included three other Republicans vying to replace McConnell, who stepped down as Senate president pro tem earlier this year to assume his constitutional duty after former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned.
Thurmond, the only person left on the GOP ballot, argued he was exempt as a public official. State law exempts incumbents from the requirement that the “statement of economic interest” be submitted simultaneously with other candidacy forms, since incumbents file one annually. The judge ruled that as a former county councilman, Thurmond is not a public official. Thurmond is appealing that part of the decision.
The portion allowing a special primary has already sparked at least one lawsuit. Officials believe others are waiting on the appeal’s outcome.
A hearing is scheduled Thursday for the case of Brian Moody, who is seeking a spot on county council. He was decertified after the second Supreme Court ruling, leaving no Republican on the ballot for that seat, despite serving 12 years on the Charleston County School Board.
“There’s no difference that I can discern,” Moody said of his case and Thurmond’s. “I thought the case was exactly on point.”