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South Carolina Chief's Primaries Head to Run-Offs; Zais-Backed Candidate Out

The primary races in the South Carolina superintendent's election are headed to June 24 run-offs, with two Republicans and two Democrats set to face each other after the June 10 primary narrowed a crowded field. As in Georgia, where 15 candidates ran in the GOP and Democratic primary elections, the primary races for superintendent were crowded in the Palmetto State, where 12 candidates sought the state's top K-12 post.

In the Republican primary, Molly Spearman (22.5 percent) and Sally Atwater (21.9 percent) were the top two vote-getters and advanced to the run-off. Outgoing Superintendent Mick Zais, a Republican, had endorsed his deputy, Meka Childs, but she finished well off the pace with only 6.7 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the third-place finisher, Sherri Few, didn't miss the run-off by much (19.7 percent)—she had built her candidacy around opposition to the Common Core State Standards, which the state dropped less than two weeks before the primary.

A former member of the South Carolina legislature who also used to work at the state education department, Spearman is the head of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. Atwater is a special education teacher who in 2001 was appointed by former President George W. Bush to be executive director of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. 

On the Democratic side, the top performer was Sheila Gallagher (36.4 percent), a former president of the South Carolina Education Association who has gained prominence for advocating the legalization of marijuana to provide $188 million in additional funds annually for education. In second place was Tom Thompson (26.3 percent), who has worked as a teacher and as an administrator. 

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