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Education lab

Ellen Weaver wins SC Republican superintendent primary runoff

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Ellen Weaver is a Republican candidate for state superintendent of education. Provided

Ellen Weaver won the Republican primary runoff for state superintendent of education June 28, claiming victory after her opponent Kathy Maness conceded the race before all the votes were counted.

Weaver, the head of the right-leaning think tank Palmetto Promise Institute, carried about 63 percent of the vote, according to unofficial late returns, to Maness' 37 percent, with better than 90 percent of the statewide vote counted.

The win was a turnaround from the initial primary voting two weeks ago when she came in behind Maness, the head of one of the state's top teacher associations.

Weaver will proceed to the general election in November where she will face Democratic candidate Lisa Ellis and Green Party candidate Patricia Mickel.

Until last week, Ellis was the head of the teacher advocacy organization SC for Ed but announced a leave of absence to focus on the race. 

"The voters spoke loud and clear to put parents in charge, support teachers by restoring discipline and prepare our students with the skills the need to succeed," Weaver said.

Maness said she will keep fighting to put students first and improve South Carolina schools.

South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick welcomed Weaver's victory and said it was a step in keeping the direction of the state's public education under GOP leadership.

"We look forward to working together to ensure our school system puts the needs of our children first and does not focus on a one-size-fits-all approach in the classroom," he said.

"Further, we intend to keep this seat in Republican hands and can't wait to beat Democrats in November when South Carolina elects Ellen as the next State Superintendent of Education," he added.

The superintendent race kicked-off in October when current S.C. Superintendent Molly Spearman announced she was not seeking reelection after eight years in the position.

Weaver received the most campaign donations, gathering $300,000 that largely came from big-donors and school choice advocates, according to a Post and Courier analysis of campaign filings.

Some of these donors included Meeting Street Schools founder Ben Navarro and Truist bank group president and current gubernatorial appointee on the state Board of Education Mike Brenan.

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Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who Weaver worked with for many years, also donated to her campaign.

Maness, on the other hand, collected approximately $115,000, much of which was from small donations from teachers and parents. 

The two quickly emerged as front-runners in the six-way Republican primary June 14 with Maness receiving 31 percent and Weaver getting 23 percent of the votes. Shortly after the two candidates realized they would face each other in a runoff, the gloves came off.

Maness attributed her victory to her grassroots campaign made up of thousands of supporters and volunteers rather than backing from what she termed the mega-rich elite and D.C. special interests. In a statement to The Post and Courier, she said the results showed that South Carolina education cannot and should not be bought.

Weaver went after Maness for being a member of the education establishment. She said that while Maness was busy "applauding Joe Biden and working with national unions to keep classrooms closed and kids in masks, I was fighting alongside leaders like Governor Henry McMaster and Senator Tim Scott to stand up for parents’ rights, return to in-person learning, and expand school choice for families."

The tension ratcheted up the week before the runoff as endorsements came in for both candidates. Maness received support from Spearman and the sixth-place finisher in the primary, Lynda Leventis-Wells, who is a member of the Greenville County School Board. Weaver nabbed big names like Scott and state Rep. Russell Fry, who is running for Congress.

Weaver thanked the conservative voices for coming together and supporting her as a "voice of change" in South Carolina's education system. 

Jon Parker, Maness' campaign spokesman, criticized the fact that many of Weaver's supporters were legislators and pointed out that Maness wanted to empower parents, not politicians. 

Follow Hillary Flynn on Twitter @HillarySuzane.