There was a festive air at The Woodlands Inn Tuesday night, and it was about more than winning a single election, according to the candidates and their supporters who gathered to watch the returns come in.
It was about positivity winning over negativity, they said, obliquely referring to campaigns that attacked incumbents’ integrity or accused them of being in the pocket of the “Realtor party.”
In heavily Republican Dorchester County, the primary often holds more significance than the general election, even if it’s a struggle to get voters to the polls.
The county reported overall voter turnout of just less than 14 percent, although precincts with contested races reported turnout of 20 percent or more.
By winning the Republican nominations for their seats Tuesday, incumbent County Councilmen David Chinnis and Jay Byars effectively won re-election, as no Democrats have filed to run in November.
Incumbent state Reps. Chris Murphy and Jenny Horne will face Democratic opposition in the fall, but Tuesday was about celebrating the win.
At The Woodlands Inn, Byars, Chinnis, and Murphy gathered with friends and supporters to await the unofficial numbers.
All three thanked their constituents and their supporters; all three acknowledged the hard fought campaigns of their challengers.
“I just greatly appreciate the confidence the people of Dorchester District 2 showed in me today,” Chinnis said. “Four years ago I was humbled to win the election by 7; this time I am even more humbled to win by this margin. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of shoe leather, and a lot of good conversations with a lot of good people.”
Byars likewise thanked his constituents, noting that he expected a hard-fought campaign.
“You don’t take anything for granted – you have to work hard in any race,” Byars said. “I am very humbled by the fact that the people believed in me and saw through the negativity. They know that positive dialogue, not negativity, is the future of Dorchester County.”
Murphy, too, thanked his supporters and noted that working together and building positive relations and dialogue is key to the county’s future.
“I knew this was going to be a very close race,” Murphy said. “I am in Columbia a lot, I was up against a sitting county councilman, but in the end the negative campaigning backfired.”
Murphy’s race was the closest; he won with 53 percent of the vote.
Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett, his opponent, said while awaiting returns he was ready to live with the result.
“I give it over to The Lord. It’s a calling. I’m ready for whatever — of course I’d like a win,” he said.
Upon learning that Murphy won, he said he would continue to do his job as councilman.
A friend at the party, John Warren, said everything would work out.
“We feel like Larry is where he is supposed to be for right now, and where he can do the most good. Next time it’ll be his time,” he said.
Horne was unable to attend The Woodlands event at the last minute, but she said Wednesday she was pleased with the results and thanked voters for their confidence in her.
Horne garnered 64 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Challenger Franklin Smith took 21 percent and Evan Guthrie took 15 percent.
Horne said she wants to continue focusing on education funding reform and on her healthy youth amendment, which passed the House this year but was killed in the Senate.
It would have updated the state’s 25-year-old sexual education requirements.
At the community center in Ashborough, Lester Dempsey, whose grass-roots campaign against Jay Byars for County Council District 7 ultimately fell short, thanked his supporters for their work.
“I just want to thank everyone for the great things you have done —– I couldn’t have done what I have done without your efforts. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of friends or group of participating citizens than the people in this room,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure representing Dorchester County on the committees I’ve served and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Scott Inabinet, who ran against David Chinnis for County Council District 2, said overall he was pleased with his campaign although he was disappointed with voter turnout.
“I think it was a pretty good race,” Inabinet said. “I was completely self-funded and had two volunteers who helped me. Hopefully we educated people on some of the different issues and showed them that they should be more involved with their local government. My hope is that county council will be more transparent, such as providing more detailed explanations of ordinances, for example.”