COLUMBIA - The two GOP candidates for state superintendent of education with the field's most campaign cash are heading for a runoff.
Sally Atwater and Molly Spearman both received 22 percent of the primary vote Tuesday night - beating out six other Republican candidates.
Atwater and Spearman out raised their competition, each having more than $125,000 in their coffers. A runoff election will be held on June 24.
But that outcome wasn't as surprising as how the rest of the candidates ranked for voters in the end.
Meka Childs, a former deputy superintendent, walked away from the race with just 7 percent of the vote. And Sheri Few, a Republican activist who has rallied against Common Core standards, ended up with 19 percent of the vote.
Few said it was difficult to compete with the money raised by Spearman and Atwater. Plus Atwater, widow of GOP operative Lee Atwater, had name recognition.
"I think it's showing in the good finish that we had that the voters of South Carolina want to see an end to Common Core and the bias in the textbooks," Few said. "I was a little surprised to see that (Meka) Childs didn't do any better. She had lots of sound endorsements from legislators around the state."
Indeed Childs was favored to head for the runoff either against Spearman or Atwater among political circles in Columbia. Of the Republican candidates, she was the most endorsed, including by Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.
"As the perceived frontrunner, we took a lot of shots from a lot people for three months," said RJ May III, Childs' campaign manager. "We tried to run a positive campaign that was substantive as opposed to other candidates who thought the best route was to make accusations against Meka."
Atwater's campaign manager, DeLinda Ridings, said she too was surprised by where other candidates ranked in the race. But Ridings added Atwater's campaign was focused less on the rest of the candidates and more about making it to the runoff.
"We were just fighting for Sally," Ridings said. "These are the things you can't predict."
Spearman said her campaign was expecting to head into the runoff and was thrilled to have come in first place. She added that she believe Few came in third because her message resonated with South Carolina's voters.
"Sheri's message was to keep Washington out of South Carolina education," Spearman said. "We need to manage education in South Carolina with South Carolina standards. That resonated and I think that's going to resonate in this runoff."
The Republican candidates aren't the only ones headed for a runoff in this race. Sheila Gallagher and Tom Thompson are also competing again on June 24 for the Democratic nomination.
Unlike the Republican race, where the candidates with the most cash are heading for the runoff, with the Democrats, the two who raised the least made it through.
Gallagher walked away with 36 percent of the vote, with just $6,300 in her coffer, according to her May 30 campaign disclosure. Thompson garnered 26 percent of the vote, with $3,680, according to his April 8 disclosure. Thompson did not return repeated calls for comment.
Adding their totals together doesn't even come close to Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, whose campaign cash totaled $19,780 and the former perceived front runner, Montrio Belton, who totals exceeded $45,000. Gallagher, however, received a lot of attention over her call to legalize marijuana and tax the drug as a means of funding education. She also has said funding could be improved if the state stopped denying federal education grants by opposing federal programs such as Smarter Balanced and Race to the Top.
She has some name recognition for being a teacher, the president of an education association and from two previous unsuccessful bids for the House and Senate. Gallagher added that now through the June 24 runoff, her focus will remain to get people out to vote.
"Bottom line we just have to get one more vote than the other guy," Gallagher. "It's a matter of getting people out to vote."
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.