Three-term Rep. Jim DeMint trounced ex-Gov. David Beasley on Tuesday to win a Republican runoff in South Carolina and earn a spot on the November ballot for a Senate seat that has been occupied by the same Democrat for almost 40 years.
In Utah, businessman Jon Huntsman Jr., a Bush administration diplomat who also worked as a White House aide under Ronald Reagan, defeated a lesser-known challenger by an overwhelming margin to capture the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Utah is one of 11 states with governor’s races this year.
Huntsman will face a member of the state’s most prominent Democratic family in November: Scott Matheson Jr., dean of the University of Utah law school and the son of a former governor.
With all precincts reporting in South Carolina, DeMint had 59 percent, or 153,947 votes, while Beasley had 41 percent, or 106,113 votes.
'A boring guy'
“It’s amazing what a boring guy can do with a little help from his friends. Mission Two is accomplished,” DeMint told supporters, referring to the runoff. “We’re in the finals now.”
His victory thwarted a comeback attempt by Beasley, who was bounced from the governor’s office in 1998 after angering voters by calling for lowering the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse.
DeMint, 52, will face Democratic state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum this fall in a race that could help determine the balance of power in the Senate.
Despite South Carolina’s conservative leanings, Democrats believe they have a serious shot at maintaining the seat that retiring Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings has held since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. They are confident that President Bush’s vulnerability and Tenenbaum’s moderate message could spell trouble for the GOP nominee.
Republicans see the race as a chance to solidify their Senate majority. The GOP nominee will have the advantage of a Republican president at the top of the ticket in a state that elected Bush with 58 percent of the vote in 2000.
Beasley and DeMint were forced into a runoff because neither received more than 50 percent of the vote during the primary two weeks ago.
Beasley, 47, finished first in the primary and was the early front-runner, while DeMint was a relative unknown in much of the state until a few months ago. But he poured about $3.5 million into the campaign and capitalized on Beasley’s negative image from his time as governor from 1995 to 1999.
Many considered DeMint the tougher opponent against Tenenbaum simply because he is a blank slate for many voters who have bad memories of Beasley. They remember Beasley’s stance on the Confederate flag, his call for a ban on video poker and his penchant for making exaggerated claims.
“I thought we were going to Washington to protect America, to fight for America, but I’m going back home,” Beasley said. “I’ll be cutting the grass tomorrow and I’ll be doing my chores. I can assure you that when that sun comes up tomorrow that David Beasley will not fade into the sunset.”
The two generally sparred over trade issues and how best to revive South Carolina’s manufacturing-heavy economy. DeMint supports free trade, while Beasley is more of a protectionist.
Easy win for Huntsman
In heavily Republican Utah, Huntsman easily defeated Nolan Karras, 59, a former lawmaker who oversees the state’s universities.
With 22 percent of precincts reporting, Huntsman had 16,603 votes, or 66 percent, compared with 8,723 votes, or 34 percent, for Karras.
Huntsman, 44, is the oldest child of entrepreneur Jon Huntsman, who amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion with a conglomerate of chemical companies that gained fame in the 1970s for inventing the clamshell container for the Big Mac.
Huntsman already disposed of Gov. Olene Walker at May’s party convention, but he did not get 60 percent of the delegates’ vote. That forced the runoff with Karras.