Open county, legislative seats draw competition in June primaries 

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Steve Stegelin

A handful of empty seats representing Charleston on County Council and in the General Assembly are up for grabs in Tuesday's primary elections as several veteran lawmakers opt out of reelection.

The June 9 election would be unique for the number of people vying for office in a normal year. But with the coronavirus pandemic upending public and private life for months now, candidates are headed into election day without weeks of door knocking and fundraising, usually table stakes outreach for little-known candidates.

Democrats outnumber Republicans overall on the June 9 ballot, fielding more candidates in more races than their GOP counterparts. But with Republicans still holding large numbers of local seats, Democrats will be looking to make gains during a presidential election year when Republicans are defending the White House.

From Hollywood to Daniel Island, primaries in a few key districts have drawn interest from multiple challengers that could change local influence in those areas.

We sent each candidate six questions to answer about their run for office. Read the responses at charlestoncitypaper.com/2020.

STATEHOUSE

Even before former Rep. Peter McCoy vacated his seat in House District 115 to become acting U.S. Attorney, Democrats were campaigning for new blood to represent Kiawah, Seabrook and James Island as well as Folly Beach in Columbia. Democrats Eileen Dougherty, Carol Tempel and Spencer Wetmore are campaigning for the chance to face Josh Stokes or Kathleen Wilson on the Republican side. Tempel is making her second run for the seat after nearly upsetting McCoy in 2018. Wetmore, the city administrator for Folly Beach, is making her first run for public office as is Dougherty, a former fisheries administrator.

For state House seats, nominees must earn a majority of support to advance to the general election ballot. That means there will likely be runoffs in primaries with more than two candidates. (Bonus: One of the five women running for District 115 will likely represent the area come 2021.)

It's unknown, however, the impact COVID-19 will have on election day turnout. Mail-in absentee numbers are already at record levels statewide, and especially in House District 115. From the single precinct on Seabrook Island, more than 400 absentee ballots have been requested in the town of about 2,100 total registered voters.

House District 99 will soon have cycled through two Republican reps in three years through plea deals (Jim Merrill) or aspiration for higher office (Nancy Mace). With two Democrats and four Republicans jockeying for the spot, along with monster mail-in absentee numbers already from Mount Pleasant, watch for a wide-open GOP runoff.

One state Senate seat is open in Charleston this year, with Sen. Paul Campbell planning to retire from public office. Republicans will look to hold the district, but massive growth in the Berkeley County area of the district has changed the landscape of the electorate. One of two Democrats, Debbie Bryant or Kris DeLorme, will face either Brian Adams or Gayla McSwain in November.

COUNTY

Open seats in two Charleston County Council districts represent one of the larger chances for a power shift on local ballots in 2020. As Vic Rawl and Elliott Summey exit, eight candidates are vying for their seats on a council that has grown despondent in recent years.

To represent Democrats in District 3, a four-man race between three attorneys and a community activist, the junior Summey's old district, which has seen quick growth and change over the past decade.

One of the four Democrats — Gordon Garrett, Eric Laquiere, Rob Wehrman or Jesse Williams — will face Joe McKeown, who looks to rejoin Council after working as senior staff for U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

Outgoing Councilman Rawl's West Ashley district has contested primaries on both sides of the aisle. Among Democrats, Mt. Zion AME Rev. Kylon Middleton faces firefighter Christian Rainey. On the Republican side, veterinarian LaDon Paige faces business executive Darryl Ray Griffin, whose son Harry serves on Charleston City Council.

Charleston County residents will also have a new coroner for the first time in 20 years after Rae Wooten's retirement. With significant influence in prosecution and estate matters, the office of coroner is a partisan race. Veteran first-responder Frank Broccolo or funeral home owner Herb Fielding will face the Republican, chief deputy coroner Bobbi Jo O'Neil, in November.

The polls are open on June 9 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, election officials are encouraging voters to cast absentee ballots, which can be requested until Friday, June 5. Ballots must be returned, either in-person or by mail, by election day. In-person absentee voting is also available at the Charleston County elections office at 4367 Headquarters Rd. in North Charleston.

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