COLUMBIA — Republican Gov. Mark Sanford easily won his party's nomination Tuesday, but a little-known and poorly funded challenger was able to grab enough of the vote to send a message to the incumbent.
With 72 percent of the precincts reporting, Sanford had 65 percent of the vote to Dr. Oscar Lovelace's 35 percent. While the returns showed Sanford with a clear win, Lovelace supporters sent a clear message: The governor should work more closely with legislators to help South Carolina move forward.
Lovelace "will do a better job being fair," voter Angela Chambers of Irmo said Tuesday. "Sanford doesn't do a good job bringing people together. I almost feel like he doesn't respect the office of the governor."
During more than a year of campaigning, Sanford never engaged Lovelace and declined repeated debate requests.
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"It's not about the other candidate, it's about what you believe in," Sanford said. "It's about what you are trying to accomplish."
Even Tuesday, Sanford still would not mention his primary opponent by name.
"If it plays out that way in November, we'll have a change at the governor's office," state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin said.
He said if the margin holds, it's bound to attract more money to South Carolina from sources such as the national Democratic Governors Association. "This state is in play, and that's the biggest news to come out of this evening," Erwin said.
"I've been impressed with the job growth that has occurred during his tenure," voter Tammy Skelton, a 28-year-old Simpsonville real estate agent, said of Sanford.
The governor "has just shown himself to be well qualified. He's very conservative, and he's done some things that we like," Wanda Wiggins of North Augusta said after voting.
In Columbia, retired Army veteran Chappell Thomas, 70, said he voted for Lovelace because he wanted someone "who will be honest with me and the people."
Thomas, a Republican, said although he thought Sanford has been a "pretty good governor," he was unhappy with the way Sanford worked with lawmakers.
"I don't think Sanford has been strong enough," Thomas said. "The state is in a big mess, and they're not looking out for the people."
The governor's relationship with lawmakers is one of the things that motivated Lovelace to enter the race a year go. By that time, Lovelace, 46, was already miffed with Sanford, also 46.
Four years ago, Lovelace was a Sanford supporter, backing the former U.S. House member as he knocked off the old-line Republican Party's favorite, then-Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, in a runoff.
Sanford went on to win the November election over Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. As he was taking office, Sanford tapped Lovelace to help lead a panel recommending needed changes in state health care systems. But Lovelace says Sanford did little _ beyond holding a news conference _ with the group's suggestions Lovelace said would have improved health care and saved money.
Lovelace spent months criticizing Sanford as an ideologue who can't compromise or communicate enough to get the job done.
"We've got to have a governor that understands leadership," Lovelace said. "It's not about gamesmanship and gimmicks. That's what this governor's legacy has been _ gamesmanship and gimmicks."
Lovelace could never match Sanford's fundraising. Sanford raised more than $6 million for the contest and after a round of television ads that never mentioned the primary or his opponent, had nearly $5 million remaining as the campaign's last week got under way. Lovelace had raised only about $500,000 through last week, and his campaign said all of that would be spent in the campaign's final days.
As the incumbent, Sanford also had the advantage of quick access to reporters and standing invitations to talk to just about any group. He's been a frequent guest on radio talk shows _ bringing him into the cars and homes of some of the GOP's most loyal voters. He spent the last week on the road getting media coverage as he criticized the Legislature's spending plans.1,277 of 2,052 precincts - 62 percent
x-Mark Sanford (i) 94,016 - 64 percent
Oscar Lovelace 52,404 - 36 percent
1,729 of 2,052 precincts - 84 percent
Tommy Moore 73,196 - 65 percent
Frank Willis 33,671 - 30 percent
Dennis Aughtry 6,394 - 6 percent