Well, I voted today — for Russell Ott. How about you?

Early voting for the 2024 state primaries has begun, so I trooped over to the West Columbia Community Center to cast my vote. (I’m going to be out of town on the actual election day, June 11.)

And when I say “cast my vote,” I mean exactly that. “Vote,” singular. I voted for Russell Ott for state Senate, and no one else.

That’s partly because I live in Lexington County, and he was on the Democratic primary ballot, and in this area, you mostly only have Republicans running, and thereby offering choices. There was one other choice being offered on the ballot I took — I could have chosen between the two guys vying to lost to Joe Wilson in the fall.

I wasn’t going to do that. I had never heard of either of them before I saw them on the sample ballot, just a few minutes before I headed to the polling place. And as I’ve said many times, I don’t vote for people I know nothing about.

But I was glad to vote for Russell in his contest against Dick Harpootlian.

I’m not as optimistic as I’d like to be about the outcome on June 11, but my worrying could be a mistake. I just don’t know. The thing is, while I know Russell — and Dick — I don’t know this odd new district they’re running in.

You may recall that Dick had given the impression that he wasn’t seeking reelection from his current district, so the Republicans just drew him into the same district with my senator, Nikki Setzler. Then, weird things happened. Dick changed his mind, and Nikki decided to retire. So Dick ran in this new district, which somehow included not only his urban Columbia address, but Russell’s out in St. Matthews.

It would be city mouse versus country mouse — the lawyer versus the farmer — and in this case, knowing and observing them, I preferred country mouse.

And I think if every voter here in Lexington County knew both of them as I do, most of tthem would prefer Russell. He’s the one who’s more like Nikki, who has been elected and re-elected around here enough times to become the Senate’s longest-serving member.

But here’s the thing: They were used to choosing Nikki in November, and Nikki was too smart ever to mention his political party on his yard signs. Russell’s trying to get to the November ballot through a strongly contested Democratic primary.

And I don’t see a whole lot of my neighbors choosing the Democratic ballot when they go to vote. I asked a poll worker whether they had given out many of those today. They had not.

Which is why Dick, who has largely been a pragmatic guy in the Senate, is running this time like a zampolit, an enforcer of party ideology. You’d think he was running in AOC’s district or something. But I think that’s because he assumes Richland Country Democrats will dominate the contest, and that they want to hear that kind of stuff. Maybe he’s right. And maybe he’s wrong. I can’t tell.

We’ll see. But we’ll have to wait until June 11, at least. I’ll just keep hoping it will be Russell. I think he’s the better man for this district, and for South Carolina.

How about you? Have you voted? Do you plan to? Maybe not. While they handed out very few Democratic ballots at my polling place today, it didn’t look like there were all that many takers on the GOP side, either. People just don’t vote in these things. And that’s a shame…

This is what was on offer over on the Republican side.

10 thoughts on “Well, I voted today — for Russell Ott. How about you?

  1. Douglas Ross

    A vote for Harpootlian is as dumb as a vote for Trump.

    He’s just as unctuous but not as rich.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Is that really you, Doug? I’m not sure, because of the different email address.

      But if it is, I congratulate you on getting through the registration process that has caused so much confusion…

  2. Leon

    I am retired and I sometimes tune into ETV to watch the goings on at the State House. I have always been impressed with Russell Ott and I hope he wins his race. Apparently there are those in the House of Representative who also like him. In the closing days of the legislative session he was referred to by several of his colleagues as Senator Ott. I find Mr. Ott to be a voice of reason in the sometimes maddening discourse in the House. Unfortunately, I do not live in his district so I cannot vote for him but I wish him well.

  3. Scout Cotham

    I came to see what you had to say about this Ott – Harpootlian situation. I thought you might have some thoughts. I do plan to vote and I’m definitely leaning toward Ott. I spent alot of time being confused before I researched and found they had redrawn the district and before I realized Nikki wasn’t running again. I couldn’t figure out why there would be Senate signs for the same names in Columbia and here, since it (I thought) it was a different district and over here should be Nikki. But it’s all clear to me now.

    I will probably research and choose one of these challenges to Joe Wilson also. Because I’m good at Lost Causes, I suppose.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, good for you.

      But I didn’t bother with those folks running for Congress, partly for the most obvious reason — that they have no chance.

      But beyond that, the thing is that I knew nothing about either of these people. I hadn’t heard of them until I saw the names on the sample ballot. (One thing I can say for Joe is that at least he had served visibly in the Legislature for years, so voters had had a chance to observe him and draw some conclusions.) And in the few minutes I spent googling for info about them, I found nothing really helpful. I think one of them doesn’t even have a website, but maybe I was searching wrong. Anyway, I don’t vote blind.

      Also… when one party has locked up a seat as securely as the Republicans hold the 2nd district, the opposite party’s primary usually does not attract strong candidates. So not only are these guys unknown, but if we DID know them, would we want to vote for them? Again, that’s unknown. And my desire to replace Joe isn’t enough for me to vote for just anybody. It needs to be someone better. It needs to be someone who is qualified….

      Good to see you back, Scout! And thanks for including your full name..

  4. clark surratt

    Your pick surprises me. I agree with your former paper, and its summary. The Legislature needs more Harpootlians and their often different voices

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, Clark, we’ll have to get together for breakfast again soon and I’ll try to better explain my reasons. But as this campaign has run over the last few weeks, I’ve become more and more convinced that Russell is the right man for Nikki Setzler’s highly modified district.

      I believe the people who used to vote, reliably, for Nikki, might choose Russell over any of these Republican candidates running. I can’t see them choosing Dick…

  5. Scout Cotham

    I did go vote on Election day. I voted for Russell, and I’m glad he won. I looked it up and in my precinct (Saluda River), which I think might be considered purple, there were 95 democratic ballots and 188 republican. Maybe more people chose republican because they wanted to vote for sheriff (and that’s the only way you could)? Or maybe it’s not actually a purple precinct. In any case, Russell lost in my precinct, but won overall. (BTW, in Quail Hollow – the breakdown was something like 100 democratic ballots and 350 republican).

    I don’t know if this is a valid indicator of what will actually happen in November with voter turnout, but it looks like the total number of votes in the republican primary for this seat was pretty similar to the total number in the democratic primary – both in the 4000s. So maybe this will be a competitive seat. I’ve been wondering if the new district was drawn to be skewed in any certain way. The previous version which Nikki won repeatedly did not include downtown Columbia, I don’t think, which I would think might give it an infusion of blue. So it will be interesting to see.

    I voted for Robinson to run against Joe Wilson. I found on Ballotpedia, both candidates had completed a questionnaire for them. Not of all of the questions were the same, but some were. I’m not sure if that means one candidate just chose to not answer all the questions, or if they actually give some different questions to each candidate. I’m guessing probably the previous. But in any case, it’s the closest thing to a side by side comparison I could find. I chose Robinson because of pluses like he can write complete sentences that make sense and connect several sentences in a row and stay on topic. Also the overall impression was that he seemed like a decent guy. The other guy did not use complete sentences. I wondered if it could possibly have been verbal responses that were transcribed. But in any case, it did not make a great impression. Not that transcribed verbal responses would be bad, just that it would seem important to be aware of the medium that your answers are going to be presented in and to check / ensure that they come across as they should in translation – which I sense did not happen. Maybe I’m biased as a speech-language pathologist, but I think language use is important. Also, when asked his favorite book, he said “the writings of Daniel Shrief” – which is apparently his own self published book. So I picked Robinson. However, comparing the turnout for Republican primary and Democratic primary for this seat – there are way more Republicans. So oh well. It probably was just a symbolic vote.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “I chose Robinson because of pluses like he can write complete sentences that make sense and connect several sentences in a row and stay on topic.”

      It’s quite a bad situation we’re in that we can actually use that standard to decide who will lead the country. But we can. From January 2017 to January 2021, the president of the United States could not meet that standard.

      Perhaps you ARE biased in expecting basic language skills. But so am I.

      Back to the top of your comment… Yes, a big part of that would have been the sheriff’s contest. I had been worried about that. About five or six weeks ago, I was driving down Sunset and seeing all those signs for sheriff candidates, and it suddenly hit me: That’s very bad news for Russell. The fact that he did well enough to win under those circumstances is quite an accomplishment.

      While none of us have had the chance to see how this district acts in a general election, I feel pretty good about the fall. Republicans in Lexington County had the sheriff race fueling their turnout in the primary, in the fall, we’ll have the presidential election. That’s good for Russell. If he can just get enough of this county to more or less repeat Nikki’s past success, he’ll then have his own home county where they know and like him, and those additional voters in Richland…


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