South Carolina – On Monday, a Democrat from the South Carolina House, Ivory Thigpen, said he’s going to run against a state senator who left the Democratic Party last year to become an Independent.
Thigpen, who leads the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, is one of at least two Democrats aiming for the Senate seat that covers part of Columbia and reaches into northeastern Richland County. Another Democrat, Monika Elkins from the Richland 2 School Board, already announced her candidacy in November. There might be more people joining the race. The process to officially enter the Democratic and Republican primaries in June starts in mid-March.
The Democratic primary on June 11 will pick a candidate who might compete against the current senator, Mia McLeod, in November. This will in case McLeod decides to run for a third term and if she stays as an Independent. So far, she hasn’t confirmed what she plans to do next. Before joining the Senate in 2016, McLeod was in the House for three terms.
McLeod’s campaign is in negative
Financially, McLeod’s campaign account was almost $22,000 in debt as of December 31. In contrast, Thigpen had around $16,000 in his campaign account for his House position, based on their recent financial disclosures. On the first day of the 2023 legislative session, McLeod criticized the Democratic Party in an email for not supporting Black female candidates and taking Black voters for granted.
Six months after Mia McLeod lost badly in the governor’s race, she sent out a shocking email. She was way behind Joe Cunningham, the Democratic nominee and former 1st District Congressman, in that race. Cunningham then lost in November to Governor Henry McMaster.
McLeod’s email said the Democratic Party no longer represents what she and her voters believe in. She wrote about her struggles with her own party to support her community.
This situation showed big disagreements within the Democrats in Richland County, a place where Democrats are usually strong in a state that mostly supports Republicans.
At that time, Todd Rutherford, a Democrat and the House Minority Leader from Columbia, criticized McLeod. He said she was blaming others for her own problems. Rutherford and McLeod have had issues for a while. He had supported Cunningham before the primary, which led to a heated argument on social media.
Ivory Thigpen, who is 45 years old, mentioned that he had been trying to get McLeod to rejoin the Democratic Party for the past year. Her uncertainty about this made him decide to run for the Senate.
“At some point, leadership is about decisions and boldly moving forward,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen had already informed McLeod about his intentions, McLeod continues to support Democrats
Thigpen shared that his decision to run won’t be a shock to McLeod. He had already informed her about his intentions. McLeod’s switch to Independent didn’t really change how things worked in the Senate debates or their results. She kept voting with the Democrats, like in last year’s major disagreement over a strict abortion law. McLeod joined forces with the other five female senators — three Republicans, one Democrat, and herself as an Independent. They’re known as the “sister senators” and gained national attention for their united stand against a ban on abortion from conception with few exceptions. However, they couldn’t stop a law banning abortion after six weeks.
Thigpen emphasized that it’s important for Democrats to hold onto this Senate seat. The Republicans almost have a supermajority in the chamber. There are 30 Republican senators and 15 Democrats, with McLeod being the only Independent.
If a Democrat wins the seat, their count in the Senate would go back to 16, according to Thigpen.
Republicans are just one seat away from a supermajority after gaining two Senate seats in November 2020. McLeod’s district is a strong area for Democrats, made even more secure by the recent redrawing of district lines following the 2020 Census. A Republican would likely only have a chance to win this seat if McLeod stays Independent and no Democrat competes, leaving a Republican as the only major party candidate.
“We see the Republicans gaining more and more power, and we must boldly protect this seat,” Thigpen said.
Running as an independent is a risky move for McLeod
McLeod won her 2020 election easily as a Democrat. However, if she runs as an Independent, she might get fewer votes. This is because South Carolina lets voters choose all candidates from one party easily, without checking each name.
In the 2020 election, 41% of Democrat voters and 58% of Republican voters picked their party’s full slate, the South Carolina Election Commission data shows.
Thigpen thinks that if voters do the same in November, winning as an Independent would be very tough, maybe even impossible.
“The math just doesn’t work,” Thigpen said.
Regarding the other Democrat running, there’s a history of conflict with McLeod.
In 2019, Monika Elkins was arrested after a confrontation with McLeod and her sister following a school board meeting. Elkins was accused of pushing McLeod’s sister and was charged with disorderly conduct. Instead of pleading guilty or going to trial, she entered a program for first-time offenders.