Ott defeats Harpootlian in SC Senate District 26 Democratic primary as senator concedes

The Midlands will have another new senator next year. State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, defeated state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, in a hotly contested Democratic primary in Senate District 26, according to Tuesday’s unofficial results.

With all of precincts reporting, Ott led 2,414 votes to 2,294 votes.

Harpootlian conceded the race Wednesday morning.

Ott now moves on to the general election where he will face off against the winner of the Republican runoff between Chris Smith and Jason Guerry who ran in a three-person GOP primary that included Billy Oswald.

Smith received 1,825 votes, Guerry had 1,687 votes. Oswald had 1,264 votes.

The district covers parts of Calhoun, Lexington and Richland counties, including downtown Columbia.

A crowd of about 40 people cheered loudly as Ott declared victory.

Ott said that his win showed “folks don’t have a problem when you have to compromise to get things done.”

“We told the truth,” Ott said, but he pledged to work to win over voters, especially in Richland County, who might be skeptical of his record.

His win tonight, Ott said, was essential for keeping the seat in the contested district Democratic.

“I think I was the best candidate for the seat,” Ott said.

At the Harpootlian party in Five Points, the state senator’s team huddled in its war room waiting for results to come in as the attendees at the gathering dwindled.

But at a news conference Wednesday morning outside his law office, Harpootlian graciously conceded his defeat.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve got no regrets about the way we ran this campaign. No regrets about my six years service in the Senate,” Harpootlian said.

He told reporters he will support Ott in November.

“We went through our process yesterday. I lost,” Harpootlian said. “The process worked. I’m not accusing anybody of stealing anything. I’m not having a temper tantrum. I’m not expressing some doubt in our system.”

Harpootlian, known for a brash style from time to time, and not afraid to speak his mind, made a lighthearted comment.

“I would say that the tragedy from yesterday is that promising political future was nipped so early in the bud,” said Harpootlian, who was previously an elected solicitor, state Democratic Party chairman and Richland County councilmember. “I had to get that out. I feel better now.”

After the 2020 Census, the district was redrawn and put state Sen. Nikki Setzler and Harpootlian into the same district. Setzler opted not to run again. Ott decided to jump into the race after Setzler announced his retirement from the state Senate.

The winner of the November election gets a four-year term in the state Senate, which pays $10,400 a year plus a $1,000 a month district stipend.

The race between Harpootlian and Ott became contentious almost right from the start. They even referred to each other as “elitist blowhards.”

Harpootlian hit Ott on his previous votes for abortion bans and for permitless carry of guns, and for being paid $75,000 a year by the farm bureau, an entity Ott previously lobbied for.

Ott eventually voted against the 6-week abortion ban, which is now law, and legislation to allow people carry guns without a permit.

Ott described Harpootlian as ineffective in the General Assembly and questioned whether the state senator and former state Democratic Party chairman really cared for Black people. Ott even pointed out Harpootlian missed the first debate in the Senate over the current abortion law because he was defending convicted double murderer Alex Murdaugh. Harpootlian was present for the abortion debate after the bill returned from the House.

The race turned into a test of campaign style.

Ott included traditional, but time consuming and physically taxing, door knocking. Harpootlian relied on phone calls to reach out to potential voters.

Both of their campaign teams were confident going into Tuesday’s primary.

Harpootlian had the campaign cash advantage in the race, raising $187,000 compared to Ott’s $182,000. Harpootlian’s campaign also took out a $150,000 loan ahead of the primary to further add to his cash cushion.

But between April 1 and May 22, Ott outraised Harpootlian $85,000 to $53,000.

In the last weeks of the election, Harpootlian went on television, joining Ott who had been on the air earlier, but with fewer spots. Both camps were confident, but Ott said it would be a close race on election night.