SC candidates file as outbreak puts calendar in question

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The filing period for South Carolina’s 2020 primaries and November general election closed Monday, although the coronavirus outbreak has left in flux how exactly the elections will be carried out.

Perhaps the most highly anticipated election contest in South Carolina is U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s pursuit of a fourth term. A general election matchup with Democrat Jaime Harrison all but certain, Graham has also drawn a handful of Republican challengers, as well as Constitution and Libertarian party opponents.

Harrison, whose primary opponent dropped out to support him, is an associate chairman with the Democratic National Committee and former chairman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party. Submitting his candidacy papers on the first day of filing, Harrison is backed by former presidential hopefuls and current U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, as well as U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

Graham, a popular incumbent, is supported by President Donald Trump in a state where the administration’s favorability remains high and Republicans currently occupy all statewide offices and control both legislative chambers. Both he and Harrison have posted record-breaking fundraising numbers.

All of South Carolina’s U.S. House members filed for re-election, each drawing at least a handful of challengers from opposing parties. As expected, a number of Republicans filed in the 1st District for the chance to take on South Carolina’s newest member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham. In 2018, Cunningham became the first Democrat to flip a South Carolina district from red to blue in decades.

His challengers include Republican Nancy Mace, a state House member who's already secured backing from national Republican groups, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Mike Pence.

In the 2nd District, where U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is seeking a 10th full term, the incumbent attracted a Republican challenger in Michael Bishop, mayor of the Town of Springdale.

All of South Carolina’s legislative seats are up this fall. As expected, many Democratic challengers have already been targeting Republican districts they see as possible pickups, but legislative Democrats have attracted Republican challengers of their own, some in districts where they’ve faced no recent general election opposition.

In Lancaster, just south of Charlotte, Democrat Mandy Powers Norrell will face off with Republican Sandy McGarry, Lancaster County Republican chairwoman. Norrell has represented the area in the state House since 2013 and has not faced a GOP challenger since.

Norrell, the 2018 Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, once described herself as a conservative Democrat but subsequently tempered the characterization. Norrell began that campaign by telling The Associated Press she was sometimes “to the right” of her running mate, then-Rep. James Smith. As the campaign wore on, however, she began to distance herself from that description, later saying in a debate she could think of no ways in which she disagreed with Smith.

Trump carried Lancaster County in 2016, winning nearly 61% of the vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The area is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman in the U.S. House.

In all, 465 candidates filed to run as Democrats, according to the state party. GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said that 534 Republican candidates had filed paperwork.

South Carolina’s Democratic and Republican primaries are scheduled for June 9, but there are questions about how South Carolinians will cast their ballots if the COVID-19 outbreak continues. State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire has forecasted several potential problems, including:

— Will health officials still be recommending people not gather in large groups like polling places?

— Will a potential pandemic harm or compromise poll managers, who tend to be older than the state's population as a whole?

— Will some buildings used as polling places like schools, churches or a nursing home in Greenwood allow them to be used for a large gathering of people?

To change the date of the primary or the rules, the Election Commission would need a law passed by the General Assembly, which took this week off without setting a date to return.

When they do come back, lawmakers will have a number of other weighty issues to deal with like rewriting a budget after the coronavirus caused a massive, sudden economic downturn, and handling graduation requirements after weeks of school were moved to online learning.

There is a precedent: The 1992 and 1994 primaries were held in August after redistricting problems delayed filing.

Whenever the 2020 primaries take place, the Election Commission is sending a number of possible changes to the governor and House and Senate leaders including voting by mail, no-excuse-needed absentee voting and arranging early voting centers for weeks to spread out the crowds at polling places, Whitmire said.

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