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Minority candidates Haley, Scott secure nominations in South Carolina

By Associated Press
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 21:33 EDT
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Voters reject deceased Senator Strom Thurmond’s son in favor of black lawmaker

Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, handily won the Republican nomination for governor and Tim Scott, a black lawmaker, grabbed the GOP nod for a House seat in South Carolina primary runoffs Tuesday, a fresh sign of racial progress in the Deep South and the GOP.

Six-term Republican Rep. Bob Inglis fell to prosecutor Trey Gowdy, making him the 5th incumbent House or Senate lawmaker to lose this year.

In North Carolina, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall overcame a challenge from state Sen. Cal Cunningham, winning the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in the fall.

Voters in Utah and Mississippi also decided on their final nominees, just over four months before November balloting.

Tuesday’s runoffs and primaries played out across a handful of states, the latest cluster of contests to determine matchups for the midterm congressional elections. Already, 2010 is shaping up to be an anti-establishment year with angry voters casting ballots against candidates with ties to Washington and the political parties.

With her victory, state Rep. Haley moved one step closer to becoming the first female governor in the conservative-leaning state. She brushed aside allegations of marital infidelity and an ethnic slur to come within a percentage point of winning the gubernatorial nod outright on June 8. And with 66 percent of the precincts reporting in the runoff, she led with 65 percent of the vote to Rep. Gresham Barrett’s 35 percent.

In a fitting twist, Haley planned her victory party at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum lobby.

Scott, also a state lawmaker, hoped to become South Carolina’s first black GOP congressman in more than a century. He beat Paul Thurmond, the son of the late U.S. Sen. and former segregationist Strom Thurmond in the runoff after securing the backing of several Republican leaders in Washington. With 83 percent of precincts counted, he led with 69 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Thurmond.

The GOP-leaning district stretches down the Carolina coast and includes Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. If elected to the House, Scott would be the GOP’s first black lawmaker since Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts retired in 2003.

Perhaps no other contest illustrated voter frustration better than the runoff between Haley, a state legislator with the backing of tea party activists and Sarah Palin, and Barrett, a four-term congressman who has had to answer for his 2008 vote for the unpopular Wall Street bailout.

Haley handily beat Barrett, two other Republicans and allegations of infidelity two weeks ago, but she didn’t earn the 50 percent needed to win the nomination outright, triggering a runoff that grew nastier by the day.

“I like Haley because she’s firm in her convictions and she didn’t let any of the attacks of the last weeks get to her,” said Renee McKissick, 53, of Columbia. She voted for Haley two weeks ago and felt coming out Tuesday would validate that decision.

Haley immediately became the front-runner in the race against the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. The disgraced GOP Gov. Mark Sanford is leaving the post because of term limits.

Aside from Barrett, the bailout vote thwarted Inglis’ quest for another term in the 4th Congressional District. Spartanburg prosecutor Gowdy forced Inglis into a runoff after making the race a referendum on the incumbent’s bailout vote and casting him as not conservative enough for the district.

In Utah, Republicans chose between businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee for the GOP Senate nomination. It’s likely whoever wins will become the next Utah senator. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in Utah since 1970.

Illustrating how fractured the tea party movement is in Utah, one of the founders of the state’s tea party movement, David Kirkham, endorsed Bridgewater on Monday. But Lee had already picked up the support of the California-based Tea Party Express, which is weighing in on primary races nationwide.

The victor will succeed Bennett, who lost his bid last month for a fourth term. Conservatives at the GOP state convention punished him for his support of the bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

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Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.

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