The S.C. District 33 Senate Republican Primary is heading to a runoff as incumbent Luke Rankin failed to get more than 50% of the vote.
Rankin, an attorney, pulled in 39% (5,072 votes) of the 13,046 votes cast, while challenger John Gallman, a financial adviser, got 35% (4,598 votes) and Carter Smith, a nurse and co-founder of the Coastline Women’s Center, got 26% (3,376 votes).
Smith declined to comment Tuesday night.
With over 99% of the precincts reporting as of midnight, there had been more than 41,000 ballots cast in Horry County, out of 236,682 registered voters, which is a voter turnout of less than 18%, according to SCVotes.org.
Rankin, who’s served in the state senate since 1993, wasted no time in going on the offensive as it became clear that a runoff was imminent.
“This is a unique time obviously, for our country, for our world and for this county,” Rankin said. “We have never seen outsiders come in, posing as locals, working the polls, walking around neighborhoods handing out paraphernalia, fliers with outright lies and misrepresentations of people’s records before.”
Gallman’s main point of attack during the campaign was Rankin’s record on abortion.
Although Rankin voted for the 20-week fetal anomaly bill passed under former Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration in 2016, Gallman said Rankin hadn’t done enough to pass the proposed heartbeat bill, which would ban abortions with few exceptions after a heartbeat is detected, which occurs between four and six weeks into pregnancy.
Rankin has contested that, saying he’s never objected to the bill. And he doesn’t sit on the Senate Medical Affairs committee, which would schedule a vote on the bill. Rankin said if given the chance, he would vote for the heartbeat bill.
Gallman’s other grievances with Rankin included the gas tax increase to pay for roadwork, and his involvement in the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project.
“We started this campaign with Martin Luther King in mind,” Gallman said, “and Martin Luther King said ‘Anyone can be great because anyone can serve,’ and that’s what we plan on doing: serving the residents of Horry County by putting them first, making sure we protect the unborn, that we protect the second amendment, that we protect the ratepayers of Santee Cooper and that we get the roads that we paid for finally paved.”
Rankin ran on his record, touting his seniority and his work on the state infrastructure bank board, which helped fund several large road projects dating back to the mid 1990s. He defended his support of the gas tax increase, which has helped fund road projects all over the state.
On Tuesday, Horry County will vote for its next District 33 state senator in the Republican …
“In my tenure in the state senate, I’ve worked well with others, worked well with the leadership of the senate as a freshman to get us the roads that we needed here,” the incumbent said. “That was 22, Conway bypass, Carolina Bays Parkways, the widening of 544, 707 and the extensions of Grissom Parkway. Road after road after road, we got through [by] my working with others. Now we’ve gotten road money for resurfacing; 200 miles of resurfacing going on right now and more to come.”
Rankin called Gallman’s staff “hired hit guys,” and said he’d hired out-of-state workers to run his campaign.
“They’re temps. They don’t know Gallman,” Rankin said. “One guy apologized to me for what they were doing. He hired these folks and they’re trying to pull one over on the folks of Horry County.”
Indeed, Gallman’s financial disclosures show he spent more than $55,000 on Florida-based company Mobilize the Message for voter outreach services. The company, according to its website, provides “ideologically driven activists” to “flood target areas with doors, phones, and grassroots engagement.”
When asked about hiring out-of-state workers, Gallman said his campaign is about bringing people together.
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“We’ve got people from every tribe and every tongue and every nation,” he said. “We’ve got people coming together from all colors, all races, and we’re bringing people together. That’s what we do in the Gallman camp, we bring people together from different socio-economic backgrounds, from different races, creeds; there’s room in our camp for everyone. That’s what we do. We bring people together, we put people first.”
Rankin’s biggest campaign expense came from more than $52,000 he spent on Columbia, S.C.-based Spring Strategies for social media, advertising, digital communications, consulting and mailer design, among other services, according to his ethics filings.
Regarding Santee Cooper, Rankin said he's in favor of the state holding on to the utility company.
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“What do we want to do: do we want to sell Santee Cooper to an out-of-state for-profit utility?” he asked. “If we do, people’s rates are going to go up. That is a clear difference in my vision and that of John Gallman, who has already said we should sell Santee Cooper. Hold onto your pocketbooks, your rates are going to go up.”
Gallman denied saying he wanted to sell Santee Cooper.
“I never said I was in favor of selling it. He lied,” the financial adviser said. “What I’ve said is I’m in favor of us fully investigating it, that no attorney-legislator should make one penny off of Santee Cooper. There’s been $51 million that’s already been distributed in the SCANA part of it, between 13 law firms. One of those lawyers was in the South Carolina Senate with Luke Rankin and no attorney-legislator should profit off the Santee Cooper nuclear debacle.”
Gallman continued to call for a federal investigation into the failed V.C. Summer project, in which Santee Cooper was a stakeholder, and said he wanted everyone involved to testify, including Rankin, who sits on the Public Utility Review Committee and sponsored the Base Load Review Act in 2007
That law, which was unanimously repealed in 2018, had allowed utilities to raise rates on customers to charge them for projects that were not yet complete, including the $9 billion effort to build two reactors at the V.C Summer Nuclear Generating Station, an effort that eventually failed after high production costs and delays. The bill allowed investor-owned utilities like SCE&G, a subsidiary of SCANA, to raise rates for future projects. Santee Cooper, by contrast, is state-owned.
“I’m calling for and I’m going to continue to call for a full and thorough investigation of Santee Cooper,” Gallman said. “We need to know where every penny went. We need to make sure the ratepayers get justice before we make any more decisions.”
Rankin said voters should look to the area’s growth as a reason to vote for him.
“To hear him say it, we have no roads, we have nothing to brag about,” Rankin said. “This is a dark day, half-empty cup for him. Look at who’s moving in and why are they moving in. And I would suggest that would be the difference.”
Gallman said he was ready for the contest.
“We’re prepared and we’re going to work harder than we’ve ever worked before and we’re going to make sure the people of Horry County come first,” he said, adding later, “the best is yet to come.”