FLORENCE, S.C. – Florence Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. held off two challengers in Tuesday’s primary to claim victory in the state’s 31st Senate district for a tenth straight time.
Leatherman, the 85-year-old Senate president pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, won with 54.6 percent of the vote. He will not face Democratic opposition in November, making him a shoo-in for Senate District 31.
Richard Skipper, a former Florence County GOP chairman and local insurance agency owner, finished with 40.2 percent of the vote, while Dean Fowler, Florence County’s four term treasurer, held 5.2 percent.
Leatherman hosted a pre-planned victory party at the Florence Country Club on Tuesday night for supporters and friends. He said Florence County made the right choice, the choice that will get the most results, not a placeholder senator.
“The winner this evening is the Florence area,” Leatherman told the crowd of about 100. “I want to publicly thank Gov. Haley. She started doing robocalls, talking about how terrible I was but the people of this county didn’t hear that. That hurt our opponent more than it helped him. I hope she understands that she can’t come into the Pee Dee and start meddling in our business and try to tell us who the senator should be.”
The Senate 31 primary race became contentious at times, drawing divisive lines in state leadership and adding another chapter to Leatherman and Haley’s power struggle.
Gov. Nikki Haley and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis backed Skipper, while Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas, former Gov. David Beasley and State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman rallied around Leatherman.
Political action committees– namely, A Great Day SC, SC Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity – spent thousands of dollars targeting Leatherman in TV and radio ads over the past several weeks.
During his victory speech, Leatherman alluded to Haley’s use of “dark money” to try to unseat him. He made light of the dozens of attack ads and mailers.
“I thank all of my supporters for allowing my campaign to have enough money to compete well against the two Koch brothers’ money,” Leatherman quipped. “Maybe they spent some money here but it didn’t work.”
During a stop in Florence earlier this month, Haley accused Leatherman of preventing ethics reform for years so he could “pad his pockets” and give himself pension increases.
Leatherman, and his supporters, denied these accusations and said the 85-year-old senator has done more for the Pee Dee than any other politician before him.
What many supporters see as overdue attention to a long-ignored region of South Carolina, critics see as pork barrel spending that hurts other parts of the state.
Leatherman said economic development in Florence County – think Otis Elevator, Honda of South Carolina, QVC, McCall Farms, and others -- was made possible because of his leadership role in the Senate.