(AP via USA Today) - A woman broke into South Carolina's all-male Senate on Tuesday as petition candidate Katrina Shealy defeated a longtime legislative foe of Gov. Nikki Haley, while in the House, voters replaced a Republican woman with a Democratic one.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia, became the only state senator to lose his re-election bid in one of the state's most closely watched races. The 67-year-old former law enforcement officer lost to the former Lexington County GOP chairwoman in a race that sparked the chaos that tossed nearly 250 people off primary ballots.
A lawsuit filed against Shealy for not properly filing her candidacy paperwork led to back-to-back state Supreme Court rulings that affected races statewide. Many blamed Knotts, whom Haley pointed to as the poster-boy for good ol' boy politics.
In adjoining Richland County, Rep. Joan Brady lost her bid for a fifth term to Democrat Beth Bernstein. In coastal Horry County, the GOP picked up a seat with a win by Solicitor Greg Hembree, who replaces retiring Democratic Sen. Dick Elliott. Paul Thurmond, former Charleston County councilman and the son of former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, won the seat of former Senate leader Glenn McConnell.
McConnell became lieutenant governor earlier this year when former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned amid an ethics scandal.
In federal races, voters elected Republican Mitt Romney, as expected, and gave the state its sixth Republican congressman. On the ballot's lone constitutional referendum, they voted to put the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket starting in 2018.
The winner of the new 7th Congressional District will be the only change to South Carolina's U.S. House delegation. Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice defeated Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu to represent the state's northeastern corner. Meanwhile, the state's four freshmen Republican congressmen handily defeated foes with little cash in heavily conservative districts.
Reps. Tim Scott, Trey Gowdy, and Mick Mulvaney defeated women running in their first political race. Rep. Jeff Duncan ended a radio talk show host's second bid for the seat.
The state's lone Democratic congressman, 20-year veteran Rep. Jim Clyburn, trounced a Green Party opponent in the state's majority-black 6th District. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson faced no opposition at all in the 2nd District.
All state House and Senate seats were up for election this year. But fewer than 20 of the 170 seats were considered competitive. Both the House and Senate will retain their Republican majorities.
Only a half-dozen incumbent legislators faced strong opposition from a Republican or Democratic foe.
That included Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Columbia, who became the first Richland County senator to hold that title after McConnell left the post. Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler also held onto his Lexington County seat.
Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, won a fifth term in a three-way race, with 46 percent of the vote. Vick dropped out of his bid for the new 7th Congressional District earlier this year after an arrest in downtown Columbia.
Several more incumbents were in rare competitive races against petition candidates, after 70 of the booted candidates were from legislative races.
The decertification was the result of back-to-back state Supreme Court rulings on improperly filed candidacy paperwork, due to confusion over a 2010 change in the law. The decertified candidates had only one way to get on November ballots: a tedious, little-used paper process that requires gathering the signatures of at least 5 percent of a district's registered voters.
In one of the most watched petition races, Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, handily won a sixth term against former Rep. Rex Rice, a Republican who got on the ballot via petition. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, he had 65 percent of the vote.
Also in Pickens County, Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, beat petition challenger Ed Harris. Skelton lost to Harris in the June primary by 73 votes. But the state GOP chairman decertified Harris, and a judge then voided his candidacy when Harris couldn't produce his paperwork.
The biggest obstacle to petition candidates was straight-party voting. Anyone who voted along a party line bypassed those candidates completely. In 2008 and 2010, half of all voters chose the straight-party option.
Regardless, a record number of petition candidates won. Besides Shealy, petition candidates won House races in which no one else was on the ballot. The last time a petition candidate won state office was 1990, for a House seat.
There was a single constitutional referendum on the ballot.
Voters said "yes" to governors selecting their running mates starting in 2018. The change means the state Senate will elect its own presiding officer. The lieutenant governor will no longer preside over that chamber.
More South Carolinians likely voted Tuesday than any other time in the state's history, said Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. Voter registration and absentee voting already have hit new highs over the last presidential election. The percentage of registered voters casting ballots could top the 76 percent high of 2008.
In the Democratic stronghold of Richland County, voting continued well past the 7 p.m. closing of polls, with some precincts reporting waits throughout the day of up to seven hours.
"The passion and dedication of South Carolina citizen for the electoral process was on display at the polls today," said Marci Andino, executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission. "We're grateful to voters for their patience as they waited to cast their ballots."