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South Carolina runoff pits Trump candidate against GOP governor’s endorsement

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Longtime friends former President Donald Trump and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster are on opposite sides as voters on Tuesday in the state’s 3rd Congressional District choose their Republican nominee.

Also at stake in the primary runoffs in South Carolina is whether the last of the state’s three Republican women, known as the “Sister Senators” survives after they stood against a total abortion ban.

In upstate South Carolina, McMaster is backing nurse practitioner Sheri Biggs, the wife of a political confidant and regular donor. Trump is backing Mark Burns, a Black pastor who has been by his side for nearly a decade.

Both candidates haven’t held political office before and the winner in the runoff is a heavy favorite to beat a Democrat and a third party candidate in the most Republican district in GOP-dominated South Carolina.

McMaster and Trump go back a long way. McMaster was the nation’s first statewide elected official to back Trump in early 2016. Trump said when he became president he asked then South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to become U.N. Ambassador so McMaster could move from lieutenant governor to the state’s top job.

There’s no apparent animosity between the endorsers. McMaster did campaign in person for Biggs, while Trump didn’t make a visit to South Carolina for Burns.

Here are some things to know about these candidates:

Similar Stances

The House candidates had similar, popular views for Republicans, like ending nearly all abortions, closing the border and fighting inflation, as well as a total disdain for ideas from Democrats. If Biggs wins in November, she would be the state’s second Republican woman in Congress. Burns would become the second Black Republican elected to the U.S. House since Reconstruction.

With similar agendas, the two-week sprint to the runoff has become about style. Burns, who got 33% of the vote in the June 11 primary, said he is the only candidate strong enough to fight for Trump. He has called Biggs a “swamp creature” who wouldn’t fight the establishment. He has also pointed out that while he was born in South Carolina, Biggs moved here seven years ago.

“Right now, we need a Trump-endorsed pit bull, not a poodle. That’s why the president endorses me. I am that junkyard dog from Belton, South Carolina, that will scrap for the America First agenda,” Burns said at a debate last week.

Biggs, who finished second with 29% of the vote, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. She said Burns misconstrues his academic and military background and voted for former Democratic President Barack Obama. Biggs has promoted pictures of her taken with Trump and said she is the candidate who can bring people together.

“I want to help heal our nation. We are broken fiscally, mentally and spiritually,” Biggs said during that same debate.

Funding Differences

Both candidates have invested heavily from their own money. Biggs loaned her campaign nearly $350,000 and raised an additional $182,000 from individual donors.

Burns has taken out $750,000 in loans for the 2024 campaign and raised a little over $16,000 from individuals. He still owes a $100,000 loan from an unsuccessful 2022 run in the neighboring 4th Congressional District. And unlike Biggs, Burns has not filed a required ethics disclosure form detailing his personal finances, which would give a glimpse into his personal worth and ability to pay the loans back.

“You can check my financial reports,” said Biggs, who lists millions of dollars in assets in investments and businesses with her husband. “I submitted mine unlike my opponent.”

The seat is open after Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan decided not to run again after seven terms. Duncan’s wife of 35 years filed for divorce in 2023, accusing him of several affairs.

The Republican nominee will face the Democratic nominee, Sherwin-Williams paint store manager Byron Best from Greenwood, and Michael Bedenbaugh, of the Alliance Party in November.

The district in the northwest corner of the state contains several small population centers.

Sister Senators

In Lexington County, just west of Columbia, voters are deciding whether the last of the three Republican Sister Senators who helped defeat a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina should be tossed out of office.

The three women were given the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for people who risk their careers for the greater good after they joined with Democratic lawmakers last year. The General Assembly eventually passed a measure that would ban most abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy — before most people know they are pregnant.

Sen. Katrina Shealy finished first in the June 11 primary, but her 40% of the vote was well below the majority needed to win outright. Attorney Carlisle Kennedy was a few percentage points behind.

Shealy, along with fellow Republican Sens. Sandy Senn and Penry Gustafson, said a pregnant woman shouldn’t lose control of her body as soon as an egg is fertilized. Senn lost her primary by 33 votes, while Gustafson got only 18% of the vote.

Outside of a Democratic senator mostly drawn out of his district due to redistricting, the women are the only ones in the 46-seat South Carolina Senate to lose their reelection bids.

“You can’t tell me that’s not a slap in the face of women,” Shealy said of the losses as she geared up for her runoff. “Republican women lose like this over one issue when we fought so hard for other things.”

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press