SC Politics

Abortion Dominates Democratic Primary For South Carolina Senate

Dick Harpootlian takes aim at rival Russell Ott as race for newly drawn seat takes shape …

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The race for South Carolina Senate District 26 is barely a week old, but battle lines are already being drawn by two Democrats contending for their party’s nomination. At stake is a blue seat surrounded by an ocean of “Republican” red – a seat the GOP would love to claim as its own.

The issue poised to dominate the race? Abortion.

It all started back in June 2022 when the U.S. supreme court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion on demand. Many Democrats who had long championed Roe as part of their appeal to women voters were outraged – and vowed to undo what the highest court in the land had done.

Around the same time, leaders in the S.C. General Assembly were putting the finishing touches on their new map of House and Senate Districts. Among those impacted was the newly redrawn Senate District 26 (.pdf).




Fast-forward to this year and a big development: S.C. senator Nikki Setzler announced his impending departure from the legislature in a lengthy, self-congratulatory tome published in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper. Setzler won this seat back when Democrats dominated South Carolina politics. Though the political landscape radically shifted over the years, Setzler maintained his hold on this district by campaigning as a “caring conservative.”

State senator Dick Harpootlian immediately threw his hat into the re-drawn ring. Harpootlian won his seat in the Senate in a special election in November 2018. He was subsequently reelected to a full, four-year term in 2020 – but his district was drawn off the map ahead of this year’s election to accommodate population shifts toward the booming Palmetto Lowcountry.

An über-successful trial lawyer and veteran Democratic politico, Harpootlian is the odds-on favorite to win this seat. He has already received endorsements from Richland County sheriff Leon Lott and powerful U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn.


(Click to View)

State Senator Dick Harpootlian
South Carolina State Senator Dick Harpootlian (Harpootlian for Senate)


Last week, state representative Russell Ott filed paperwork with the S.C. Ethics Commission (SCSEC) to run for District 26 seat – loaning himself $1,000 to get his campaign rolling.

This news site reported it the next day – which is when things got interesting.

Businessman Ott of St. Matthews – who has represented House District 93 for over a decade now – is in some ways more of a purple Democrat than blue Democrat. One issue on which he does not toe the party line is abortion – and Harpootlian wasted no time drawing a distinction between where the two candidates stand on the issue.

Taking to X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter), Harpootlian posted, “Welcome to the race, representative Ott. I look forward to discussing our stark differences on issues, including your radical belief that women shouldn’t have the freedom to make their own healthcare decisions.”

Harpootlian has since blasted Ott for siding with GOP lawmakers in support of a permit-less carry bill.

“I still think he is confused about which primary he should be running in,” Harpootlian wrote on X.


(Click to View)

Rep. Russell Ott is seen during session in Columbia, S.C. on Thursday, April 28, 2022. (Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA)


“I think my opponent should have announced in the Republican primary,” Harpootlian told this media outlet. “A self-described ‘pro-life’ politician, representative Ott has voted again and again to ban South Carolina women’s access to abortion and their right to make decisions about their own bodies.”

Ott has not specifically addressed Harpootlian’s criticisms, but he appeared to take a swipe at the flashy, bombastic lawmaker in his announcement this week.

“I’m running for State Senate because we need a workhorse, not a show horse,” Ott said. “I look forward to talking about the issues that matter most in Lexington, Richland, and Calhoun.”

Ott supporters unloaded on Harpootlian, with one of them saying his senatorial colleagues “drew him out of his district for a reason.”

“He sounds like he is trying to gain a semblance of relevancy by reliving his glory days as the mouthpiece for the Democratic Party,” the supporter added, referring to Harpootlian’s criticism of Ott’s record. “Dick needs to check out his new constituency”

The newly drawn Senate seat Harpootlian and Ott are competing for leans Democratic – thanks to the heavily liberal “Little Moscow” enclave around the state capitol.

The filing period for partisan primary races in South Carolina begins at 12:00 p.m. EST on March 16, 2024 and closes on April 1, 2024. Partisan primary races will be held on June 11, 2024, and if no candidate receives a majority of ballots in a given race, a runoff election will be held two weeks later – on June 25, 2024.



Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at



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Avatar photo
VERITAS Top fan February 14, 2024 at 7:51 pm

America has lost its soul. When killing our own becomes a “political strategy for votes” . . . a 50-year strategy that has turned a once great, benevolent and moral nation into the lowest form of debased depravity. And now we want to kill our elders and disabled through euthanasia. America, you’re going down – we will never recover and we deserve everything that’s coming our way. Cry Me a River.

jbl1a February 14, 2024 at 8:19 pm

Nikki Setzler, conservative democrat. That always gave me a chuckle. Harpootlian and Ott are still both liberal democrats. That’s why voters need to vote for Chris Smith, conservative republican


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