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SC education superintendent primaries end in one runoff, apparent victory in other contest

A total of nine candidates are seeking to replace Molly Spearman.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director Kathy Maness and conservative think tank CEO Ellen Weaver made the runoff Tuesday for South Carolina’s open state education superintendent seat. Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee was still up for grabs in one of the most contentious and attention-grabbing races in Tuesday's primaries.

Full South Carolina Primary Election Results

If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June 28 runoff. 

Both parties had crowded fields after Republican Education Superintendent Molly Spearman decided not to run again after eight years in the job.

Spearman sometimes disagreed with other Republican leaders, especially on issues such as whether local districts should be able to mandate masks to protect against COVID-19. That schism has continued into the Republican primary.

Spearman endorsed Maness, noting that she has been a teacher and knows both the legislative process and how schools operate.

Many other Republican leaders have endorsed Weaver, the CEO of conservative think tank Palmetto Promise Institute and chairwoman of the state Education Oversight Committee. She also has the backing of previous state education superintendents Barbara Nielsen and Mick Zais.

Weaver has raised more than $325,000, an amount not matched by any other candidate. Maness has raised about $115,000.

Maness had a clear lead in Tuesday's vote, but fell far short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.

If Weaver wins the nomination, she could face another hurdle: She does not have the master’s degree that South Carolina law now requires of a superintendent. Maness does.

Weaver said she started working on the advanced degree in April, but election officials said there is no precedent for what happens if she wins in November without it.

For the Democrats, Lisa Ellis, founder of the teacher advocate group SC for Ed, had a clear lead in Tuesday's vote, but it was too early to say if she could avoid a runoff. The other candidates are former Anderson County School District 4 Superintendent Gary Burgess and state Rep. Jerry Govan.

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