COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina Republicans kicked off the general election campaign Wednesday with a gathering designed to show unity in their party after the primaries.
Roughly 100 activists, officeholders and candidates attended the GOP "unity luncheon" a day after the runoffs.
"The real point is to unify as a team - to show we're all on the same page," said GOP Chairman Matt Moore.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who was among four statewide officeholders with no primary foe, specifically thanked Mike Campbell and Sally Atwater in their runoff efforts. Atwater, widow of legendary GOP strategist Lee Atwater, lost to Molly Spearman in her bid for state superintendent of education. Campbell, son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, lost to Henry McMaster in his second bid for lieutenant governor.
Campbell placed third in the primary but advanced to the runoff after Pat McKinney dropped out ahead of the expected automatic recount.
"Sally, we want to keep working with you as we do all superintendent of education candidates," Haley said. "Mike, there is no finer family who has been supportive of me. Your family continues to be extremely gracious and we thank you for always continuing your dad's tradition of strength and grace in the way you handled it."
All four candidates in Tuesday's GOP runoff attended the event. But many candidates who lost in the primary did not, including half of the eight GOP superintendent candidates. U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, who handily defeated six GOP challengers, and Tim Scott called in to address the crowd after a Skype attempt didn't work.
Graham faces state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, in November, while Scott faces Richland County Council member Joyce Dickerson.
McMaster thanked his three primary opponents for running a gentlemanly, positive race. The 67-year-old former state GOP chairman and two-term attorney general faces 29-year-old Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers in November.
Spearman, director of the state Association of School Administrators, faces former South Carolina State University dean Tom Thompson, the Democratic Party's first African-American superintendent nominee.
Haley has a rematch in November against Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden. She also potentially faces former judge and legislator Tom Ervin, who dropped out of the primary to be on the general election ballot as a petition candidate. Ervin turned in more than 20,000 signatures earlier this month. Election officials have until mid-August to verify whether at least 10,000 of them are registered voters.
Republicans currently hold all but one statewide office in South Carolina and six of seven U.S. House seats. Democrat Yancey McGill, a 26-year veteran of the Senate, became lieutenant governor earlier this month because he was the only senator willing to temporarily ascend into the role when Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell resigned to take his new job as president of the College of Charleston. McGill is the first Democrat to occupy that office in 20 years.
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