COLUMBIA, S.C. - Thomas Ravenel made a last-minute entry into the Republican race for state treasurer and nearly walked away with his party's nomination Tuesday.
With 98 percent of the precincts counted, the millionaire Charleston developer had 48 percent of the vote.
Ravenel easily outpaced state Sen. Greg Ryberg of Aiken, who mustered 26 percent of the vote but won a runoff spot after putting $2 million of his own into the contest.
The winner of the June 27 runoff will take on Democrat Grady Patterson, the last incumbent Democrat on the statewide ballot.
"I guess we'll just continue on with our message," said Ravenel, 43. "I've never been in a runoff."
In 2004, Ravenel pumped $2.7 million of his own cash into a third-place finish in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ernest "Fritz" Hollings. Ravenel said he learned from that campaign. He said his spending hasn't crossed the $1 million mark in this contest, but two more weeks of statewide ad spending easily could push it across that threshold.
The spending was a sign of how high the stakes are. With previous statewide losses under their belts, political scientists say a loss for either of them could dim future hopes as a credible statewide candidate.
Ryberg, 59, did not immediately respond to phone messages left for him or his campaign manager Tuesday night.
It's Ryberg's second run at knocking off the 82-year-old Patterson. First elected 1966, Patterson lost his 1994 re-election bid, but won the office back in 1998 and four years later defeated Ryberg 52 percent to 48 percent.
It was a crowded race. Former House Majority Leader Rick Quinn, 40, had 19 percent of the vote and Easley developer Jeff Willis, 37, had just under 7 percent in a contest for a job that pays $92,000.
Willis was the first to enter the race last year. He ran a campaign that relied on phone calls, footwork and campaign signs and raised about $100,000 and put in $100,000 of his own money.
Quinn, who lost his legislative seat in the 2004 Republican primary, also showed up on TV commercials after raising about $290,000. He put more than $63,000 of his own money into the campaign.
Ravenel, son of ex-congressman and former state Sen. Arthur Ravenel, got some advice from his dad this time around. "He just said, 'Make sure you buy the media markets you didn't buy last time,' " Ravenel said.
Even after spending heavily on television ads, many voters coming out of the polls Tuesday still said they didn't pay much attention to the down-ticket race.
"Not a whole lot stood out between them" and other candidates, said Alacia Miller of Aiken.
The television spending made its mark on some. Tammy Skelton, 28, of Simpsonville voted for Quinn. "I just liked his advertising," she said.
Others took a more local view of the statewide race.
Joe Wisniewski of North Augusta picked Ryberg. "He's from around this area, and I have known some of the things he's done," he said.
The candidates frequently spoke about widening the bounds of authority of the office, and that resonated with some, too.
The race also had an unusual twist.
Ryberg entered the race with Gov. Mark Sanford's backing. Traditionally, governors tend to stay out of primary contests. But Sanford says he needs Ryberg's vote on the State Budget and Control Board, a five-member panel made up of the state's chief financial decision-makers. Sanford has routinely lost votes there 3-2.