James Smith election night (copy) (copy)

James Smith speaks to supporters after winning the Democratic primary for governor in June. File/Andrew Brown/Staff

COLUMBIA — Democrats could end up losing their candidate for South Carolina governor this fall after nominee James Smith filed to simultaneously run for three other smaller political parties.

State law does not allow the name of a candidate who loses a party nomination to appear on the November ballot. A 2010 federal court appeals ruling upheld that law when a state House candidate from Charleston was barred from the general election because he lost in the Democratic primary, even though he had already been nominated by two other parties. 

So if Smith were to lose the nomination for any of the three minor parties, he could potentially be wiped off the ballot altogether.

Leaders from two of three state parties that Smith wants to represent — the Libertarian and Green parties — said they learned about the 22-year Columbia lawmaker's election filing from a Post and Courier reporter on Friday.

"Ha! What?" was the initial reaction of S.C. Libertarian Party Chairman Stewart Flood. 

"This is news to us," said Mike Stewart, co-chair of the S.C. Green Party. "It's not really wise to file without contacting party officials first."

Third-party leaders questioned why Smith would risk his Democratic nomination to seek their blessing.

"This is a potential risk for him," said Stewart, whose party filed the complaint that led to the 2010 federal court decision.

Smith withdrew his Libertarian filing late Friday after The Post and Courier reached out to the campaign. His filings with the Green and Working Families parties remained active Friday evening.

If he wins the nominations for the Working Families and Green parties, Smith's name would appear three times atop the November ballot before race favorite, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster. Ballot order of political parties rotates every year. Smith would receive the combined vote totals from all parties that nominate him.

But if one of the parties reject Smith, that could trigger the state's "sore loser" law that prevents a candidate defeated for a party nomination from appearing on the ballot at all. It is intended to stop losing candidates from shopping for a nod from another party to stay in the race.

Parties need to hold votes on making Smith the choice by Aug 15, the deadline to submit nominees to the state Election Commission. The Libertarian and Green parties invited Smith on Friday to make his pitch about his plans as governor at previously-scheduled executive committee meetings this weekend.

"We're willing to have a conservation," Stewart said.

But Flood said his party disagrees with some of Smith's stances, particularly on expanding Medicare and placing limits on gun rights, putting Libertarians in a tough spot.

"Does it look like we're putting a thumb in someone's face (if the party rejects Smith) or does it look bad to back not a true Libertarian candidate?"

Even though Smith ended his Libertarian bid, the state party still plans to vote on Smith's nomination on Saturday if only to reject the veteran lawmaker's "total disrespect for the process," Flood said.

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Explaining his decision to file with multiple parties, Smith said he and running mate Mandy Powers Norrell want to "serve all of the people of South Carolina — not just the members of one political party."

"We don't believe any one party has all the answers," Smith said in a statement released by the campaign. "While we are proud Democrats, we are independent thinkers."

Smith had reached out to the Working Families Party about running on a combined ticket, state party chairwoman Susan Smith said.

It's not uncommon for Democrats in South Carolina to also seek the Working Families nomination, she added. Working Families is expected to nominate Smith at a party convention on Aug. 11.

"We're all for Democrats finding votes wherever they can get them," Susan Smith said.

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson was unavailable for comment, a spokesman said Friday.

McMaster campaign spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg said Smith's new party choices are "wholly out of step with South Carolina voters."

"That James is embracing these fringe groups confirms what we've known all along: he supports the most radical socialist ideas of the far-left," she said. 

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.