Primary Day is Over – What Happened?
The day after elections, I always schedule some time to take stock of what happened the night before and what it means for both politics and conservation. An optimist at heart, I always look for the silver lining and what it means for advancing environmental policy in the General Assembly.
I’ve fielded a number of calls and texts from conservation voters, like you, asking for my take on the results from this past Tuesday. Here are some snapshots
CVSC-Backed Candidates Fared Well
CVSC endorsed 24 candidates in House primary elections, including 19 Republicans and 5 Democrats. CVSC-PAC invested in each of these primaries through targeted mail, door-to-door voter contacts, or direct contributions, touching over 380,000 voters as part of our work.
Of these 24 CVSC-backed candidates, 20 won their primary, 1 lost, and 3 are in runoffs. Check out our elections page for a detailed listing as well as our primary day release highlighting our investments. The wins are certainly victories worth celebrating as many thoughtful, pragmatic conservation champions in both parties fended off challengers. Rep. Micah Caskey, for example, won re-election by 26 votes, sending him back to Columbia to fight for clean energy and ratepayers for another 2 Years and proving once again that every vote counts.
CVSC also won in a number of open seats races that will help to strengthen our pragmatic and bipartisan conservation majority in the State House – folks like Heath Sessions (R) and David Vaughan from York and Greenville Counties. Heath and David are among a number of pragmatic leaders running in an incredibly large number of open seats, particularly safe Republican seats. They and their new colleagues in the House will help to shape the GOP caucus and the House as a whole, bringing a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to governing.
While there were a number of bright spots, we were also extremely disappointed in the loss of Rep. West Cox (R-Anderson). Rep. Cox has been an outstanding conservation ally in the House and has been a calm and steadfast leader in the chamber. He brought a passion for water quality protection and outdoor recreation to the General Assembly, securing funding for projects to help connect people to the rivers in Anderson, Pickens, and Greenville Counties. He was a rising star in the House and we are saddened to see him go.
All Politics is National
The saying used to be ‘All politics is local’, but trends from this election continue to indicate that may not be the case. Turnout in the primary was very low – just under 17%. We have not seen turnout this low in primary elections since 2016.
The areas with the highest turnout were in the Pee Dee and the Lowcountry – areas with competitive and highly-publicized Congressional races. In these areas, turnout matched trends of 2018 and 2020 with around 20%. Greenville and Richland Counties, in contrast, had turnout less than 15%.
Why is this important? Because when turnout is this low, it allows a small number of voters to select Representatives. In most cases, the voters who do turn out are more towards the fringes of their party.
So we have an enthusiasm gap with state and local offices. High profile federal races appear to drive turnout. This is something CVSC will be taking a closer look at and seeing what we can do to help increase voter participation in future primary elections.
Every Vote Matters
This primary also had some of the highest number of races decided by extremely slim margins. Five State House races, including 3 that CVSC was engaged in were decided by 30 or fewer votes.
Notably, Rep. Neal Collins (R-Easley) avoided a runoff by 4 votes, winning his 3 way primary outright. As noted previously, Rep. Caskey (R-West Columbia) won by 26 votes.
This again shows that every vote matters. Had just a few voters decided not to show up, we could be facing a very different dynamic in the House with a loss of some strong conservation allies.
Pragmatism Prevails – But By How Much?
The thread that tied CVSC’s primary strategy together was electing pragmatic leaders who will work collaboratively with House leadership and across the political aisle to deliver real results for South Carolina. Our defensive races, therefore, prioritized re-electing these pragmatic lawmakers, especially when challenged by far right, more radical folks in their party.
We took the same approach for our open seat endorsements. There were 18 open seats that are considered safe Republican districts on the ballot this primary, driven by retirements and new districts being created through redistricting – CVSC endorsed in 9 of these districts.
I’ll spare you the detailed number crunching and race-by-race breakdown. The top line is that it looks like the House is currently set to net an additional 5 thoughtful and pragmatic members who will work to advance conservation in a bipartisan way.
However, the 3 remaining runoffs could add to this margin or significantly reduce it. Come June 29, we could be looking at netting as many as 8 pragmatic leaders or as few as 2. This decision comes down to how well the candidates perform, how much the voters respond, and how much CVSC can help our candidates get their message out.
With only 12 days until the runoff on June 28, CVSC has our work cut out for us.
With turnout expected to be less than 10%, 3,000 – 4,000 voters will likely determine the next Representative from these three districts in York, Horry, and Newberry Counties.
Whether those Representatives are pragmatic, thoughtful leaders who will work across the aisle to make our state better or are fringe candidates who refuse to lead and, instead, govern by tweets and radical wedge issues remains to be seen.
Thanks for all you do for conservation and all you’ve done to help build a pragmatic, bipartisan conservation majority at the State House.