Democratic candidates vying to fill a vacant Horry County Council seat in a special election next month will likely face a runoff election before the party’s nominee is chosen, political leaders say.
Democratic contenders Orton Bellamy, Harold Phillips and Lee Sherman are competing for retiring Councilman James Frazier’s 7th District seat prompting a likely split among the popular candidates that won’t meet the majority vote threshold.
To win a primary without a runoff, a candidate must take the majority of the total number of votes cast, divided by two.
The special election primary is scheduled for May 17, and a possible runoff election is set for May 31. The general election for the eventual Democrat to square off against a Republican candidate will be held July 5.
“I think a runoff could happen,” said Bennie Swans, chairman of the Horry County Democratic Party. “They are each aware of that possibility and each are prepared to run those races.”
I think a runoff could happen.
Bennie Swans, chairman, Horry County Democratic Party
“When we look at James Frazier’s seat, we should be pleased that some of the best of the best are running in that community,” Swans said. “We commend them all for stepping up and don’t discourage them from running.”
Horry County GOP chairman Robert Rabon said he also expects there will be a Democratic runoff, but with only two Republicans facing off in the primary, a runoff election is unlikely.
The Republican candidates are Mike Roberts, a small business owner who was the Republican candidate in an unsuccessful campaign against Frazier in 2014, and Robert Shelley a retired police officer who served on the Conway and Horry County departments.
Bellamy is a retired military officer who also worked for the South Carolina Board of Paroles and Pardons. Phillips served on the Horry County Planning Commission and is also a former military member, and Fraizer’s cousin. Sherman is known for his community activism, and is also retired military.
“All three have honorable backgrounds, and are patriots,” Swans said.
Although Frazier, a Democrat, held the 7th District council seat for 35 years, Rabon says he is confident that a Republican candidate can capture the seat.
People are just tired of the way things are, they are tired of politicians.
Robert Rabon, chairman, Horry County Republican Party
Rabon points to the low Horry County voter turnout in February for the Democratic presidential primary, compared with the strong showing of local Republicans who turned out in more substantial numbers in a heated contest that Donald Trump eventually won in Horry County.
“People are just tired of the way things are, they are tired of politicians,” Rabon said. “We want someone new, fresh, a new book to open, and what you see if you look at the national leaders is that the Republicans are doing good.
“The mood of the country has changed,” Rabon said. “I think Republicans will win the day.”
While Rabon says that turnout and voter apathy on the Democrat side gives his party the edge, Swans said that the number of Democrats running shows that there is strong interest from his party in securing the seat.
“Every county deserves a two-party system, not my way or the highway,” Swans said. “This way provides opportunity and options for all.”