It is tempting to say that even in local elections incumbency is a benefit. After all, every incumbent on the York County Council survived the first round of Tuesday's contests.
But, even though he survived, incumbency might have been more an albatross than a lucky charm for Council Chairman Buddy Motz. He squeaked past challenger Alex Haefele in the District 6 GOP primary by a margin of only 42 votes.
District 4 incumbent Roy Blake faces a runoff with fellow Democrat William "Bump" Roddey on June 24. Blake finished first but failed to win a majority in the three-candidate race that also featured Gwendolyn Connor.
As incumbents, both Blake and Motz had to run on their records, not just talk about what they intended to do if given the chance. Motz, in particular, was dogged by his involvement in the controversial effort to establish an overlay district and extend the runway at the Rock Hill/York County Airport. Haefele made that a central issue in his campaign.
So, while incumbent county council members benefit from being able to take credit for such things as paving roads and building new libraries, they also have to contend with issues that can split constituents into warring camps. Jeff Updike, who lost his District 1 seat to Paul Lindemann two years ago, failed in his bid Tuesday to regain that seat.
Some voters have not forgotten that Updike took considerable heat for lobbying the state Department of Health and Environmental Control on behalf of Piedmont Medical Center's bid to build a hospital in Fort Mill. That was two years ago, and critics still hold it against him.
State Rep. Carl Gullick, Republican incumbent in House District 48, also won a squeaker in Tuesday's GOP primary. He fought back a challenge from Kyle Boyd, winning by only 153 votes out of 3,337 cast.
This was a race with statewide interest and implications. Gullick's name had appeared on a so-called hit-list of moderate legislators allegedly targeted by conservative groups with ties to Gov. Mark Sanford. That put Gullick in the unusual position of being an incumbent in a relatively safe seat under fire from leaders in his own party.
Boyd, a Fort Mill resident and headmaster of Walnut Grove Christian School in south Charlotte, had received financial help from out-of-state interest groups pushing school vouchers and in-state groups that sought the defeat of Gullick and several other moderate Republicans.
Incumbent York County Councilman Rick Lee had an easy day Tuesday with no opposition in the GOP primary. But he will face a challenger in November. So will incumbent Councilman Joe Cox, who beat Kenny Ruffin in the Republican primary, and so will the winner of the Blake-Roddey runoff. And Lindemann will face both a Democrat and Green Party candidate in the fall.
With Blake the only Democrat currently on the County Council, Republicans dominated in the primary season. In several races, including the Gullick-Boyd race, the winner of the Republican primary was assured of the seat with no Democratic challengers. (The opposite occurred in Chester County, where Democrats still dominate.)
But party affiliation is somewhat less important at the local level than at the state and national levels. And this year, dozens of candidates stepped forward to run, giving voters a wealth of choices in spirited, hard-fought primary campaigns.
We are fortunate that so many people are willing to serve, and we are grateful to all those who put their names on the ballot and submitted to the scrutiny of the voters. Winners and losers alike, we salute you.
Although all of them survived Tuesday, incumbents face tougher challenges.
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