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Primary Election Insights: Trends and Triumphs for Conservation

A friend of mine describes election night like a birthday; you know you’ll get a present to open when the polls close, but you don’t know if you’ll get exactly what you want or if it might be different than expected.

I didn’t realize it, but that’s exactly how I feel on most election days. Yesterday in particular felt like we were asking for a really big present. 

CVSC aimed high this year for the primaries. Typically, we’ll endorse a handful of open seats, defend several incumbents, and challenge one or two incumbents. This year, nearly two-thirds of our 38 endorsed candidates sought open seats or challenged incumbents—a huge undertaking for CVSC. 

Winning an open seat means building our endorsed candidate’s name recognition and brand from scratch, while challenging incumbents requires overcoming the incumbent’s name recognition and convincing voters to pick someone unknown to them.

So, our support of many candidates in open seats and challenge races was a bold step for CVSC, and I’m proud of it. 

What’d we see when we opened our ‘present’? 

Success!! Fifteen CVSC-backed candidates won their primaries last night, and 6 are headed to runoffs on June 25. Overall, we gained 4 new conservation champions in the House who will fight to protect South Carolina’s air, land, and water. 

The victories from last night—and the ones to come in the Runoff and General Elections–provide a strong foundation for our efforts to elect lawmakers who will work to double the amount of protected land and water in South Carolina and lead us to a carbon-free future.

We didn’t get everything we wanted

While we did see success, the results were less than we had hoped. Of course, we wanted to win 100% of the races we invested in, but you rarely get everything you want. 

Overall, our endorsed candidates for state legislative seats won 15 races, lost 13 races, and six are headed to runoffs.  

We also have 2 of our 4 endorsed candidates for Greenville County Council elections headed to runoffs. While we would have preferred them to win outright, we still have a chance to elect a number of pragmatic, conservation-minded members to the County Council. 

What trends shaped the results?

Each election cycle has its own set of trends that shape the outcome, and this cycle was no exception. Here are the trends we saw across the state last night: 

1) Pragmatic and conservation voices fared better in open seats. Without an incumbent to overcome, we were able to effectively elevate our candidates’ message and make a clear case for voters to go to the polls and vote for conservation. 

2) Freedom Caucus incumbents had a strong showing, using the extreme policies they forced the General Assembly to address this year to mobilize their base and defeat challengers. 

3) Incumbent Democrats did well across the board. Despite low turnout in some districts, many of these victories were strong, indicating that incumbency and name ID in strong Democratic districts were particularly powerful this year. 

4) Incumbent women Republican Senators had a difficult time because of their vocal stances against abortion legislation. Of our endorsed candidates, Sandy Senn lost narrowly (31 votes) and Katrina Shealy is headed to a runoff with 40% support. Both Senn and Shealy were challenged from the right because of their actions on abortion legislation this past legislative session. We saw this trend continue with Penry Gustafson losing by a significant margin (note – CVSC did not endorse Gustafson, but we are citing this to highlight the trend).

Building on our victories

Yesterday’s election was another big step in our journey to build a bipartisan conservation majority in the General Assembly. This majority will double the amount of protected land and water in South Carolina and lead us to a carbon-free future. 

Because of support from conservation voters like you, we made our largest-ever investment to bring our bold vision for South Carolina closer to reality. Last night, we made progress in several districts, which provided us with a platform to build upon in the elections ahead. 

So, while I’m proud of the progress that conservation-minded voters made last night, I’m even more motivated to keep fighting in the runoff and general elections and ensure that conservation continues to win at the ballot box. 

Let’s get out there and continue winning for the environment!

John Tynan, President, CVSC

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