Republican Paul Thurmond appeared poised to beat Democrat Paul Tinkler to fill Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell’s old Senate seat and write a new chapter in his family’s political legacy.

Thurmond, a former Charleston County councilman, held a 55 percent to 45 percent lead over Tinkler, according to unofficial results.

However, more than 10,000 paper absentee ballots in Charleston County had not been factored into the tally early today, and Thurmond expressed optimism but caution about his approximate 4,000-vote lead.

“We’re very pleased with how it’s gone,” he said.

“I don’t want to count it in the win column, but I will tell you it looks good.”

Tinkler could not be reached, but he said earlier that he was waiting to see the absentee precinct results. Four years ago, those results broke strongly Democratic and might again this year.

“I think it’s going to be a long night,” Tinkler said.

It was not as long a night waiting for results in the District 45 Senate race, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Clementa Pinckney defeated GOP challenger Leilani Bessenger by a 2-1 count. The district covers southern Charleston County and much of Colleton, Hampton, Jasper and Allendale counties.

The District 41 Senate seat was vacated when McConnell, also a Republican, resigned to fill the lieutenant governor post after Ken Ard stepped down because of ethics violations.

On the campaign trail, Tinkler often cited Ard’s downfall and related ethics issues facing other state officials as signs that voters have lost confidence in South Carolina’s government, confidence that Tinkler vowed to work to restore, if elected.

Thurmond emphasized his record cutting taxes and working to create jobs while on County Council.

He rarely mentioned his father, the legendary Strom Thurmond, who served in the U.S. Senate longer than anyone else until his death in 2003.

Tinkler realized the suburban district leaned Republican but sought out independent voters and emphasized his work alongside Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat who has remained popular there.

The race was the hardest fought contest in the Lowcountry this season, a rare open contest for one of the state’s 46 Senate seats.

Each side aired frequent TV ads questioning the other’s ethics and taxing and spending decisions. The total spending is expected to surpass $200,000.

Tinkler questioned Thurmond’s profiting $100,000 by a sale of county parkland shortly after he left County Council. Thurmond criticized Tinkler for trying to keep Thurmond — or any Republican candidate — off the ballot.

Thurmond overcame both a state and federal lawsuit challenging his eligibility because he failed to properly file ethics forms — the same problem that knocked off more than 200 other candidates across the state.

The redrawn district covers large swaths of James Island and West Ashley and smaller parts of North Charleston and Summerville.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.