The solid Republican majority in the S.C. House of Representatives is unlikely to sway much in the Nov. 3 election.
But political observers say nine races — from Lancaster to James Island — will be close as Republicans and Democrats jockey to pick up seats. There are 59 general election races of the 124 seats.
Currently,there are 78 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 1 vacancy in the House. The vacancy is House District 107 in Horry County, formerly held by former GOP Rep. Alan Clemmons who resigned over the summer.
With districts drawn to favor the incumbent party, upsets are rare. But changing demographics in the Charleston area, the Midlands and the Upstate are providing opportunities.
For Republicans, the strategy is to pick up seats from 2018 upsets and from Democrats who see their rural districts getting redder.
S.C. Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick said his party’s House candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — will rely on a consistent message of law and order, and the popularity of President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Polls of South Carolina voters show the president with more than a 7-point advantage over Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“We’ve got opportunities and we’re going to exploit them 100 percent,” McKissick told Statehouse Report. “Every poll, House district poll, Senate district polls, all the stuff we’ve seen shows having the president on the ticket and (U.S. Sen.) Lindsey Graham is a benefit to our down the ballot candidates.”
For Democrats, the strategy will be to maintain its House footprint statewide and grow the party’s foothold in the Lowcountry. Issues rest on pandemic response, health care, social justice and education.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia said the “influx of Democrats” to the Charleston area means that’s “where all the excitement is going to be.”
Democratic strategist Tyler Jones of Charleston agreed.
“Pretty much everything in Charleston is a real race now,” he said.
Here are the nine races to watch, according to multiple political observers.
Democratic Rep. J.A. Moore unseated the House’s only Black Republican, Samuel Rivers, in 2018 in this Hanahan-to-Goose Creek seat. Moore won the seat with fewer than 500 votes — or about 4 percent — over Rivers.
2020 will be a rematch between professional chef Moore and ordained minister Rivers.
Jones said this is a “district to be worried about” for Democrats. He said Moore is favored to win, but it will be tight.
McKissick said the race will be one to watch as presidential-year voters crowd the polls and mark ballots for Trump, potentially swaying the seat back to Rivers.
Norrell grabbed the seat in 2012, which was the last time she faced a Republican opponent in the general election.
Jones said Norrell’s district is “changing the opposite way that districts in Charleston are changing,” making this a competitive race.
While Funderburk has beaten back all of her GOP challengers by convincing margins since 2005, the district is trending increasingly red – making it a top target for a potential Republicans flip.
McKissick said his party “feels really good” about the chances of making District 52 and District 44 red this year.
Finlay was first elected to the seat in 2012 and has consistently beat his Democratic opponents in 2018 and 2016 by double digits. But money is flowing in this race, and Democrats say this will be a tight one for Finlay, who is facing increasing criticism for his attendance record for House votes.
With S.C. Rep. Nancy Mace not seeking reelection as she looks to return the First Congressional District to GOP hands, this open race pits Republican Mark Smith against Democratic candidate Jen Gibson.
The race is expected to be close. Mace fended off a Democratic challenger in 2018 with just shy of 500 votes.
Gibson is the director of philanthropy at Trident Literacy Association, and former Mount Pleasant Town Council member Smith is the owner of several funeral homes. Both have been active in their county parties.
S.C. Rep. Mike Sottile, a Republican, first won this Lowcountry seat in 2008 with few Democratic challengers. In 2018, his Democratic challenger fell by nearly 15 points in the general election despite the district helping to elect then-Democratic Congressional candidate Joe Cunningham.
Sottile announced in March he would not seek reelection. This year, Republican Joe Bustos will seek to keep the seat red against Democratic candidate Daniel Brownstein. Bustos is a council member for the Town of Mount Pleasant, a veteran and a former police officer. Brownstein is a marketing director at the Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman law firm and has worked with two solicitors in the state.
Jones said that given Cunningham won this district in 2018 and Brownstein’s large pot of cash on hand, it is likely to swing to the Democrats.
S.C. Rep. Lin Bennett, a Republican, has held this Charleston-to-Summerville seat since 2016, after it had a brief Democratic interruption by Mary Tinkler in 2014 after former House Speaker Bobby Harrell didn’t seek reelection.
Bennett has handily defeated previous Democratic challengers in 2016 and 2018. Now, she will face veteran and small business owner Ed Sutton.
Democratic Rep. Spencer Wetmore will again face Republican challenger Josh Stokes for the second time in three months. The James Island seat was formerly held by Republican Peter McCoy, who stepped down earlier this year to take a Trump administration appointment for U.S. attorney for the district of South Carolina.
In an Aug. 11 special election this summer, Wetmore flipped the seat blue by a 20-point margin over Stokes. However, only 6,220 voters showed up in the race between the two attorneys with civic records. Leading Republicans tsay the seat will be reclaimed in the November election when turnout in a presidential year will mean a much larger percent of the 38,518 registered voters in the district.
S.C. Rep. Krystle Matthews, a Democrat, wrestled this seat from Republican hands in 2018 after incumbent Bill Crosby fell by nearly 7 points. Crosby sought a rematch this year, but he was defeated in the GOP primary by real estate agent Jordan Pace.
Jones said Matthews will have to work hard to defend her seat, but said she is favored to win. McKissick said that, like District 15 that also flipped in 2018, Republicans feel hearty about their chances to regain this seat with more voters heading to the polls.