james smith mandy norrell

State Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell speaks Friday in her hometown of Lancaster after she was announced as the 2018 gubernatorial running mate for State Rep. James Smith (third from the left). U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (fourth from the left) and former U.S. Rep. John Spratt joined the announcement of the Democratic ticket.

LANCASTER — State Rep. James Smith, a Columbia Democrat running for South Carolina governor, picked fellow state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell as his choice for lieutenant governor, filling out the field of Democratic candidates with a month to go until the party primary.

A Lancaster native, Norrell was first elected to the S.C. House in 2012. The bankruptcy lawyer has gone unchallenged in subsequent races, even though presidential election results suggest the district leans Republican.

Smith is hoping her crossover appeal to moderate Republican voters will help him stage an upset in November and become the first Democrat to win a governor's race in South Carolina since 1998.

Norrell, 44, graduated from Furman University and received her law degree from the University of South Carolina. Both Smith and Norrell serve on the House Judiciary Committee, and Norrell had already emerged as a vocal supporter of Smith's campaign.

“I have found a woman who has the experience and strength of character that we need, a woman who shares our core values as South Carolinians, a woman who is ready now to serve and to lead South Carolina,” Smith said Friday.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who endorsed Smith at the state party convention last month, and former U.S. Rep. John Spratt also attended the announcement in Lancaster.

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Smith Powers Norrell

From left to right: Democratic state Reps. John King of Rock Hill, Terry Alexander of Florence, James Smith of Columbia, Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia at Smith's announcement Friday that Powers Norrell would be his gubernatorial running mate. Jamie Lovegroves/Staff

All three Democrats in the race have picked running mates of the opposite gender. 

Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis named state Sen. John Scott, D-Columbia, as her lieutenant governor pick in March. Charleston businessman Phil Noble tapped Georgetown economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu to join him on his ticket this week.

Noble and Willis have framed their candidacies as bringing an outside perspective, labeling Smith as an establishment insider.

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Norrell contended that their ticket’s 28 years of collective experience in the Statehouse is one of their most valuable assets.

“The arguments that we shouldn’t have people with experience in government leading in government makes absolutely no sense to me,” she said. “It’s like saying, 'Well, I need my car worked on, let me go get somebody who’s never worked on a car and see if they can do a good job because I want fresh ideas.' That’s nuts."

Only one of the five Republicans seeking the GOP nomination have chosen a running mate at this stage in the race. Gov. Henry McMaster selected Travelers Rest businesswoman Pamela Evette, a political newcomer, as his choice for lieutenant governor.

Candidates are not required to name a running mate until closer to the general election. 

The 2018 election will mark the first time that the governor and lieutenant governor candidates will run on a joint ticket together, a change that South Carolina voters approved in a 2012 referendum.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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.