COLUMBIA (AP) — Voters are deciding whether to award a second term to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley or hand an upset win to her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
The rematch, which had been expected since shortly after the two faced each other in the 2010 contest, is expected to be the biggest draw for voters in a campaign season that’s seen few surprises. Tuesday’s ballot also features 10 other statewide offices, including U.S. Senate; congressional and state House races; two constitutional questions, and a host of local elections.
In 2010, Haley, then a three-term state House member, beat Sheheen by just 4.5 percentage points. The 42-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants made history as South Carolina’s first female and first minority governor. In a state viewed as deeply red, she needs a convincing victory Tuesday to further bolster her image nationally.
Sheheen, a 43-year-old attorney and legislator since 2001, has had trouble gaining traction, despite hammering Haley on several first-term blunders. His advertisements have featured the 2012 cyber-theft of taxpayers’ personal data from Department of Revenue filings and reports this year about the failures of the Department of Social Services to protect abused and neglected children. Both are Cabinet agencies that answer to the governor. Sheheen has also sought to remind voters of ethical questions faced by the governor, including accusations she illegally lobbied while a House member. The House Ethics Committee cleared her of those accusations in 2012.
Polls suggest Haley has been able to sidestep those issues by focusing on her administration’s efforts to bring jobs to South Carolina.
She frequently refers to the 57,000 jobs she says have been created in 45 of South Carolina’s 46 counties. Sheheen says those numbers aren’t real; that many employers won’t fill those jobs for years and some plans will fail or already have fallen through. But Haley discounts such criticism.
The governor also points to an unemployment rate that has fallen from 10.5 percent when she took office to 6.6 percent in September. It hit a 13-year low of 5.3 percent in April before rising again. Haley also talks up her anti-union stance as an economic development tool, telling voters to “get excited” about the 7,500 non-union jobs at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, three years after the company’s fight with the National Labor Relations Board became a major political issue.
This will be the first general election subject to the new voter ID law enacted in 2012.
The law requires voters to present a driver’s license, Department of Motor Vehicles ID card, federal military ID, U.S. passport, or voter registration card with a photo. While voters will be asked to show photo identification at the polls, they can still vote without one by signing an affidavit stating why they could not get a photo ID and showing their non-photo voter registration card.
The polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m.
Other notable races taking place Tuesday in South Carolina:
This is the last race for the position. Because of a constitutional change voters approved in 2012, gubernatorial nominees will select their running mates starting in 2018.
The race pits 67-year-old Henry McMaster, a former U.S. attorney and two-term attorney general, against 30-year-old state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who’s wrapping up his fourth term in the state House. The son of civil rights icon Cleveland Sellers is looking to make history as South Carolina’s first black lieutenant governor. McMaster, who’s been campaigning with Haley, has been a close ally since losing to her in the 2010 GOP primary. He says if he is elected, the state’s top two offices will operate as a true team.
Both U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot, though for different term lengths.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is seeking a third, six-year term, against state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Thomas Ravenel, the former state treasurer who pleaded guilty to a drug charge and became a reality TV star. Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is seeking to add two years to his tenure, to fulfill what’s left of Jim DeMint’s term. DeMint left the Senate in January 2013 to take the helm of the Heritage Foundation. Scott had just won a second U.S House term when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to DeMint’s seat.
Scott would be South Carolina’s first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate.