GREENVILLE — Two years after being ousted from his state Senate seat in a GOP primary, Lee Bright now has a chance to win a promotion to Congress.
Standing in Bright's way in the June 26 GOP primary runoff is state Sen. William Timmons, who emerged from a crowd of relatively similar Republican candidates to get the second spot for the party's nomination in the 4th Congressional District race to replace U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg.
The runoff positions still need to be confirmed by a likely recount later this week because the margin between Timmons, of Greenville, and state Rep. Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville, was less than 1 percent. But Timmons said he is confident his lead of several hundred votes will hold and has already begun campaigning for the runoff.
The two top candidates are set to participate in a debate Monday at the Greenville Hilton.
During his years in the state Senate, Bright, of Spartanburg, became famous — or notorious, depending on who you ask — for pushing the envelope on issues that many Republican colleagues shied away from, including vehemently defending the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds after the mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church and pushing for a "bathroom bill" requiring transgender people to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.
At a recent forum, Bright called transgender people mentally ill. When he unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2014, Bright described Graham as "a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood." He has said that able-bodied people who don't work "shouldn't eat."
While Timmons has largely self-funded his bid so far, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into the campaign, he may soon see a boost from pro-business groups if Bright's 2016 campaign was any indication.
In that race, the S.C. Chamber of Commerce heavily backed now-state Sen. Scott Talley, who has endorsed Timmons.
For now, business leaders may just be weighing how active they want to get in the last couple weeks of this race.
"I think business groups are going to be looking at the lay of the land and figuring out what role they want to play," said Jason Zacher, senior vice president at the Greenville Chamber.
Geographic considerations may also play a role in the runoff. The 4th District, which encompasses most of Greenville and Spartanburg counties, has historically tended to favor candidates from the more populous Greenville. Gowdy, a federal prosecutor from Spartanburg, proved to be a notable exception.
The winner between Bright and Timmons will face either Brandon Brown or Lee Turner, who are heading to a runoff for the Democratic nomination. But the district remains a conservative Republican stronghold, meaning whoever emerges from the GOP primary is highly likely to win the seat.