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Voters oust all 4 incumbent senators on SC runoff ballots

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Voters ousted all four incumbent South Carolina senators in Tuesday’s primary runoffs, including the chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee.

The contests end a 38-year legislative career for Republican Sen. Larry Martin, who’s led the Judiciary Committee since 2012. Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Mike Fair also lost his bid after 32 years in the Legislature.

The most controversial of the unseated senators, Republican Lee Bright of Roebuck, was sent home after two terms.

Just 13 legislative races were on Tuesday’s ballots. There were no statewide contests, contributing to low voter turnout.

Eight of the chamber’s 46 senators will be new next year, when combining retirements with the results of this month’s contests. In all, the five unseated senators take 126 years of legislative experience with them.

Gov. Nikki Haley won one and lost one in the runoffs, worsening her primary endorsement record in 2016 to two for seven.

In the primaries two weeks ago, voters unseated only one of the incumbents she targeted. Last week, she endorsed Martin, a reliable ally, as she thanked him for his work on ethics bills she signed. His successor to run Judiciary will likely be Sen. Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach, the Republican next in seniority on the committee.

Both Rankin and Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, the state’s most powerful lawmaker, survived opposition from Haley and a political group tied to her that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on anti-incumbent ads.

Another target, state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, won Tuesday in the race to replace retiring Sen. Ray Cleary. Haley endorsed his opponent to represent the Grand Strand district.

Haley may have gained an ally Tuesday in former Rep. Scott Talley, who defeated Bright. The contest represented a do-over of a 2012 primary runoff, when Bright defeated Talley by less than 200 votes.

In 2012, Haley endorsed Bright. She endorsed Talley after the four-way primary two weeks ago for the Upstate seat. Bright led then with 38 percent of the vote over Talley’s 27 percent.

Bright was the only — and perhaps first — incumbent publicly opposed by the state Chamber of Commerce’s political committee, which ran several radio ads against him. The ads criticized Bright’s transgender bathroom bill as a time-wasting political stunt and faulted him for not supporting bills aimed at fixing South Carolina’s crumbling roads.

“The business community looks forward to working with Sen. Scott Talley,” chamber president Ted Pitts said about Tuesday’s results.

Environmentalists also targeted Bright, calling him the worst senator on clean air, clean water and clear energy.

Martin has served in the Legislature since his first election to the state House in 1978. Voters sent him to the Senate in 1992.

Former state Rep. Rex Rice defeated him for the Pickens County seat with 54 percent of the vote. Rice served three terms in the state House before his 2010 unsuccessful run for Congress.

It was their second time squaring off too. Martin defeated Rice in November 2012, when Rice was a petition candidate, with 64 percent of the vote. Rice was among hundreds of candidates kicked off primary ballots that year after back-to-back decisions from the state Supreme Court over improperly filed financial forms.

Fair was the second committee chairman defeated Tuesday. Voters first elected him to the House in 1984, then the Senate in 1995.

The 70-year-old incumbent from Greenville was defeated by political newcomer William Timmons, an attorney and business owner. Timmons was a prosecutor for four years in the solicitor’s office for Greenville and Pickens counties.

Voters also unseated a 16-year incumbent Democrat.

Sen. Creighton Coleman of Winnsboro was the only Democratic senator on Tuesday’s ballots. Voters first elected Coleman to the state House in 2000, then the Senate in 2008. He was defeated by Mike Fanning of Great Falls.

Among the races with defeated incumbent s, Fanning is the only one facing opposition in November. He will run against Republican Mark Palmer of York for the seat representing portions of Fairfield, Chester and York counties.

Fanning is director of the Olde English Consortium, a Chester-based nonprofit that coordinates education initiatives in the region.

The lone House incumbent on the ballot survived his re-election bid.

Democratic Rep. Bill Bowers of Hampton, a 20-year House veteran, defeated Shedron Williams.

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