By Zach Giroux for The Island Connection
The race for South Carolina’s District 115 House seat was tight, a margin so close that it wasn’t confirmed until the wee hours after Election Day.
Democrat Spencer Wetmore narrowly defeated Republican Josh Stokes 51% to 49%, by a difference of 420 votes from a constituency of 26,344 voters who turned out in-person and by mail in Folly Beach, James Island, Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island. The seat had been firmly secured by Republicans since 2010 until Wetmore defeated Stokes in a special election to replace Peter McCoy – now a U.S. Attorney – in August.
The last Democrat to hold the seat was attorney Anne Peterson Hutto, who lost to McCoy in 2010.
There appears to be a correlation with the District 115 seat and the legal profession because both Wetmore and Stokes hail from law backgrounds. In fact, Stokes has been a close friend of McCoy’s and his law partner since 2011.
There’s a connection between the Wetmore and Stokes families as well.
While Stokes was attending Charleston School of Law, he was a clerk in the Charleston County Solicitor’s Office, aiding Wetmore’s husband.
The victor in the rematch between Wetmore and Stokes boasts an impressive resume. She attended Princeton University from 2001 to 2005 before continuing her education at Vanderbilt University Law School from 2007 to 2010.
Fresh out of law school, Wetmore served as a prosecutor at the same solicitor’s office as her significant other. In 2014, she became the city administrator of Folly Beach. For the past six years, until stepping down in August to run for the Legislature, Wetmore’s top priorities for the beach town have been beach renourishment and disaster response. Now, as the face of the district, her major focuses are the environment and improving public education.
Leading up to her confirmation as District 115’s representative for the next two years, Wetmore appeared to be the frontrunner, after getting 59% of the vote in August’s special election – a whopping 20% victory over Stokes. This was an indicator early on that Wetmore would beat Stokes by a landslide, but it also was a presidential election year, so a lot of voters would be tied to the top of their ticket.
August’s special election drew 15% of registered voters, while November’s general election saw a 70% voter turnout.
The night of the election proved the margin between candidates to be a lot closer than previously anticipated.
After the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, in-person votes were trending in favor of Stokes and the absentee mail-ins showed more support for Wetmore. In the end, one advantage was canceled by the other.
The race ultimately came down to in-person absentee votes. Wetmore’s victory was confirmed around 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 4.
The morning after the votes stopped trickling in and the race was called, Stokes called to congratulate Wetmore. In short, he told her “good job,” with the sincerity of an old friend rather than a political foe.
“The fact that I have an ‘R’ after my name on the ballot and she has a ‘D’ after her name on the ballot might make a lot of people think that we believe completely different on a lot of things,” Stokes said. “We probably don’t.”
Stokes was elected to the James Island Town Council in 2014 and served until 2019. During that time he was instrumental in establishing several new annual events, including the town’s Christmas Tree lighting. Aside from co-founding McCoy & Stokes, LLC, Stokes is a heavy donor and supporter of many local organizations and charities.
“It’s disappointing to make up as much ground as I did and be as short and as close together as we were at the end,” Stokes added.
Wetmore noted that contacting voters and strengthening grassroots connections were difficult due to COVID-19.
However, she recalled knocking on thousands of doors to allow her neighbors to put a face with the name.
“We got a mom in office,” was a popular phrase Wetmore heard from voters after the election.