South Carolina Democrat flips state House seat

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina Democrat has flipped a legislative seat from Republican control in a victory heralded by some Democrats as a possible signal their party could make more gains this fall.

Spencer Wetmore won more than 59% of the votes counted in Tuesday night’s special election in state House district 115, according to unofficial election results from the state election commission. Republican candidate Josh Stokes received just over 39% of votes counted.

The seat in South Carolina's Lowcountry had long been held by Republicans but was targeted by Democrats seeing possible trends in their direction in the area, spurred in part by Democrat Joe Cunningham's 2018 victory in the 1st Congressional District. Its most recent occupant, Peter McCoy, earlier this year resigned to become South Carolina’s U.S. attorney. McCoy had been chairman of the state House judiciary committee.

A Green party candidate secured 1% of votes cast. Results will be certified later this week.

Republicans currently hold control of the state House chamber, in which Democrats would now have 45 seats with Wetmore’s victory. The legislature is not currently in session, but lawmakers are due to return next month for a special gathering to weigh in on some measures related to the pandemic, including possible expansions of absentee voting and other changes for the November election. They will also debate the state budget and spending $668 million in federal coronavirus reimbursements to state agencies and local governments.

Democrats across the state heralded Wetmore’s apparent victory as a sign their party could make substantive gains in the November general elections, during which all seats in South Carolina state House and Senate are up for election.

Wetmore’s victory holds only until that balloting, when the seat will again be up for a vote. The Folly Beach city administrator and Stokes, a local attorney, will again face-off in that contest.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP