Greg Gregory moved closer to recapturing his former state Senate seat Tuesday with a strong performance in the Republican primary for District 16.
Unofficial results from Lancaster County showed Gregory with about 60 percent of the vote. In York County, Gregory collected 30 percent of the votes, while Mike Short of Fort Mill collected 32 percent.
Gregory's unofficial total of 57 percent of the vote in both counties means he would advance to face Democrat Keith Brann and Libertarian Stan Smith in an April 12 special election. The winner will replace Mick Mulvaney, who joined the U.S. House in January.
In his return to politics, Gregory competed against four Republicans who trumpeted the tea party message of less government and lower taxes.
Brian Carnes posted photos on his campaign website of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle. Rob McCoy reminded voters that he served as emcee at many Lancaster tea party rallies.
With a key endorsement from Mulvaney, Gregory sought to emphasize that he shares tea party beliefs.
"The tea party has made every elected leader, or at least every one that is paying attention, understand that the country is fed up with government that grows larger, but is less effective at its core missions," Gregory said in an earlier interview.
Gregory, 47, retired from the state Senate in 2008 after 16 years in the District 16 seat, which stretches from rural Lancaster County to the suburban communities around Fort Mill.
Gregory, owner of a construction supply business, entered after Lancaster pharmacy owner Hugh Mobley dropped out citing health reasons. Gregory had endorsed Mobley.
McCoy expressed frustration Tuesday night as the results became clear, saying Republican Party leaders rallied behind Gregory.
"There's a clique of about 20 people that kind of control local politics," McCoy said.
"When they realized their first candidate couldn't win, they had to find someone else who could. Gregory was supporting another candidate when I got in this race."
Brann, the Democratic nominee, calls himself an "independent moderate Republican." The accountant moved south from New Jersey three years ago and concluded that running as a Democrat would allow him to avoid the crowded GOP primary.
Smith will make his second Libertarian run in the past year after losing to state Rep. Ralph Norman for state House District 48.
Unofficial results from York and Lancaster counties in Tuesday's S.C. Senate District 16 Republican primary:
Greg Gregory, 3,309 votes, 57%
Brian Carnes, 793, 14%
Mike Short, 746, 13%
Rob McCoy, 538, 9%
Wendy Petzel, 389, 7%
Jenny Overman of The Fort Mill Times contributed.