CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Longtime state Rep. James Smith has won the Democratic nomination in South Carolina's gubernatorial race.
Smith defeated Charleston consultant Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis in Tuesday's primary.
Smith has led the pack in fundraising, but recent polling in the race showed many voters had yet to make up their minds.
Smith, who is from Columbia, had the endorsement of former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and current Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
"I've been very encouraged by the turnout and the conversations that have been going on throughout this primary election cycle, but particularly today," he said. "The focus is on things like educating our kids and paving our roads and making sure we have affordable healthcare for everybody in our state, the kind of things that we can do, but we have to have the right leadership."
The incumbent, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, is seeking his first full term in office.
Smith has served in the state Legislature for 22 years. He was a JAG officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and South Carolina Army National Guard but resigned his commission after the Sept. 11 attacks to enlist in the infantry.
Smith has selected fellow state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell as his running mate.
Noble, a business and technology consultant from Charleston and founder of three statewide nonprofit initiatives, cast his vote Tuesday morning at Buist Academy. He said he was confident about his chances and believed his supporters are looking for change in Columbia.
"The people of this state want something different," Noble said. "They want something other than the politics of usual from the people at the state house. And I am that person -- and people want to send Columbia a message."
Willis has never before sought elected office, according to her website. She has been a member of a major Columbia-based law firm and is the former first lady of Florence, where her husband, Frank, served as mayor.
She said she encountered what she called "lots of unexpected wonderfulness" during the campaign.
"I've met so many people who are wonderful people that I feel like my heart has been stretched," she said. "I have more room in my heart for the folks who are, as I like to call them, my neighbors, the folks who are in need in the Pee Dee and across the state and the support for just change."
Smith will face the Republican nominee in the general election on Nov. 6.