South Strand residents should get the chance to watch the final two candidates for S.C. House District 106 debate each other, a local Republican leader confirmed Wednesday.
While a date, time and location are still being negotiated, the South Strand Republican Club plans to host a debate between Russell Fry and Tyler Servant before their Aug. 11 runoff, SSRC Vice President John Bonsignor said.
“We will have one,” he said. “And Tyler will be attending.”
Servant, who did not return calls seeking comment, has not appeared at any recent debates or forums with Fry.
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On July 16, the day of a Burgess forum, Servant wrote on his Facebook page that he had taken a break from the campaign trail to attend a family funeral in Spartanburg. He also didn’t attend a South Strand Republican Club debate July 21.
Apart from the candidate events, Servant has requested that media email him questions rather than conduct formal interviews. After Tuesday’s primary, he provided this statement: “A primary election narrowing to two candidates is an opportunity for a serious consideration of the contrast of each candidate’s experience and record. I look forward to hearing a final answer from the voters when they consider those distinct differences between Mr. Fry and me.”
When asked about a possible debate with Servant, Fry said he would welcome it.
“I certainly would love one,” he said. “The voters deserve it.”
Fry and Servant finished first and second respectively in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Fry, a 30-year-old attorney and former Horry County Republican Party official, received 45 percent of the votes cast.
“I am extremely humbled,” he said. “This was a strong victory and it could not have happened but for a lot of effort by a lot of different people.”
Fry plans to spend the next two weeks campaigning on his platform of improving South Strand infrastructure, adding school choice reforms and reducing regulations on small businesses.
“We’re going to be doing the same thing we’ve been doing,” he said.
Servant, a 24-year-old real estate broker and Horry County councilman, garnered 33 percent of the vote. Podiatrist Roy Sprinkle finished third with 15 percent and attorney Sanford Graves earned 7 percent.
Incumbents typically avoid debates because they suspect those events can only hurt them, said Chip Brown, a political scientist with Coastal Carolina University. But with no incumbent in this race, Brown said a candidate not showing up for debates sends the message that he’s already secured victory.
“It might be regarded by some people as an insult,” he said. “That just says to the people, ‘He just doesn’t give a damn what we think.’ ... People don’t like that kind of attitude. That conveys a little bit of arrogance.”
The House 106 seat was vacated by Nelson Hardwick in May after an investigation by the House Speaker’s office uncovered an accusation of sexual harassment by a female House staff member. The married father of three had held the post for 10 years. The district includes Surfside Beach and Garden City Beach.
Bonsignor said the South Strand Republican Club planned to finalize details of the debate Wednesday night. He noted that it’s critical for voters to see the candidates discuss their platforms publicly.
“They want to see if the person is for real, not using or hiding behind the TV ads,” he said. “[The ads] just give you a false picture of the candidate because they’re telling you how wonderful they are and so forth. But when people are there to see them in person, they ask them questions and they can see how they react.”
The winner of next month’s runoff is almost certain to win the seat because there is no Democratic opposition in the Sept. 15 general election.