AG Alan Wilson celebrates win in GOP primary

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson (center), flanked by family, celebrates a win in the GOP primary runoff on Tuesday. 

COLUMBIA — Attorney General Alan Wilson, targeted in a wave of campaign attacks regarding his ties to an indicted political consultant, overcame an unusually contentious primary to win the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s runoff.

Wilson won 65 percent of the vote against Rep. Todd Atwater of Lexington, who gained 35 percent, according to unofficial results reported by The Associated Press.

Wilson secures a spot on the general ballot in November against Democratic challenger Constance Anastopoulo, a professor at the Charleston School of Law. The Republican incumbent in a red state, Wilson is now largely expected to win re-election.

At a celebration at the Aloft hotel in Columbia, Wilson thanked family and staff, but said the campaign wasn't over. 

"We've got to get back to work and I'm going to need every one of you," he said.

His primary victory didn’t come without a fight.

Atwater had frequently criticized Wilson for hiring embattled political consultant Richard Quinn, whose work for Wilson continued in recent years even as Quinn was the target of a Statehouse corruption probe.

Wilson faced similar attacks from William Herlong, a Greenville attorney who failed to qualify for the runoff after finishing third in the June 12 primary.

Wilson’s primary challengers also criticized his attempt to remove special prosecutor David Pascoe from the corruption probe that targeted Quinn.

Wilson said Tuesday those concerns weren’t legitimate.

“To say someone is guilty by association is illogical and unfair,” Wilson said. “I don’t think it’s an issue. I think most people see it for what it is.”

He said he expects the campaign attacks to continue in the general campaign against Anastopoulo. 

"I'm running against someone who has never been a prosecutor, who knows nothing about the criminal justice system and doesn't know what it's like to prosecute criminals," Wilson said about his Democratic opponent. "When people don't understand the office, I imagine they're going to go and attack you personally."

Earlier on Tuesday, Wilson arrived at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington with his son, Michael, 10, and his daughter, Anna Grace, 8, to greet voters as part of a six-stop tour Tuesday of Lexington County. The county, next to Greenville, is the second-largest Republican stronghold in the state.

“I’ve left nothing to chance,” Wilson said earlier in the day Tuesday. But, he added, “You can’t help but be nervous.”

The quietly contentious race had become more competitive in recent weeks. After capturing nearly 22 percent of the vote in the June 12 primary, Herlong endorsed Atwater in the runoff and said Wilson’s relationship with Quinn was “indefensible.”

Wilson then said the other two candidates had coordinated a “dishonest smear campaign” against Wilson for months.

Wilson touted his endorsements from a bevy of S.C. law enforcement officials, including sheriffs and solicitors. Wilson was also endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the national Republican Attorneys General Association.

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Wilson reached out to S.C. Republicans in a new plea after his win Tuesday. 

"They want an attorney general who will defend the rule of law," he said. "I am their candidate. They agree with my philosophy. We just have to get past the personality differences from the primary."

Atwater, who had captured roughly 30 percent of the vote in the initial primary, ultimately couldn’t overcome Wilson’s larger profile in the state.

In Lexington, Atwater’s hometown, several voters said they supported Wilson because of his experience and name recognition.

“I feel more comfortable with him,” Ken Paxton, 82, said.

Patrick Frawley, 66, said he wasn’t concerned about Wilson’s ties to Quinn.

“I think they made too big a deal out of that,” he said.

Asked about Atwater, Frawley said he “hadn’t heard much” about him.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.