SC lawmaker Krystle Matthews wins Democratic nomination to take on Republican Tim Scott

·5 min read
Jeffrey Collins/AP

South Carolina Democratic state Rep. Krystle Matthews will face Republican Sen. Tim Scott in November after she won Tuesday night’s primary runoff election, according to unofficial results.

Matthews beat Catherine Fleming Bruce, an activist and author, from Columbia, according to unofficial election results.

Matthews raised nearly $105,000 for her Senate campaign, while Bruce raised more than $26,000.

The Berkeley County lawmaker is a single mother of five, and has been a South Carolina representative since 2018, representing the areas of Ladson, North Charleston and Goose Creek. She also is an engineering planner for Boeing.

Matthews told The State her background as a Democratic state representative in a Republican-led body suits her well for the bipartisan coalition building it would take to pass bills in the U.S. Senate.

“I’m running for this seat because I understand how important economic stability, infrastructure support (are),” Matthews said.

She added it can be a challenge to be a mother, work, campaign and be a public servant, but her busy schedule represents what makes her well suited for office, she said.

“Coalition building is a very delicate process that is almost an art form in and of itself. And so I get to bring all of that experience with me to this role, mixed with my energy, my youthfulness, my feel, my ability to bring young people to the table and have conversations where they feel like they’re listening, they feel like they’re seen and they feel like they’re represented,” Matthews said.

Matthews and Fleming were forced into a runoff Tuesday after neither exceeded the 50% threshold in the primary. The third candidate, Angela Geter, a business owner and chair of the Spartanburg County Democratic Party, did not endorse either candidate.

“It was important to me to understand and reflect upon — which I did — why it was that I was in this race, and what I felt was important and necessary,” Geter said. “And with that in mind, I made a decision that I would allow the people of South Carolina to decide who that person was, as opposed to me throwing in my opinion.”

Matthews found herself the subject of controversy after a phone call with a South Carolina inmate was leaked on social media by Project Veritas, a right-wing organization known for secretly taping progressive politicians and editing the tapes to show the politician in an unflattering light.

In two minutes of the 40-minute call, obtained by The State, Matthews told the inmate she hoped drug dealers would contribute to her U.S. Senate campaign using family members’ names and suggested Democrats run as “secret sleepers” in Republican primaries.

On Monday, in an interview with Raphael James of Live 5 News Tuesday, Matthews acknowledged the tape, calling it a political hit job and said she was not going to be contrite about what was said. Matthews has not responded to repeated requests for comment by The State.

Matthews said her supporters know she speaks passionately about what she believes.

“Nothing I said was untrue. And everything I said are also things that I’ve already talked about throughout my campaign. I don’t run from anything,” Matthews told James.

US Senate race highlights diversity

Matthews was one of three Black women to run on the Democratic ticket for U.S. Senate, a sign more diverse candidates might be lining up to run for statewide office and competitive seats, observers said.

This year, the first Black female governor candidate, state Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, ran. And a highly competitive Republican race between two women in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District — Katie Arrington and U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island — was on the ballot.

“It certainly is a strong indication of where South Carolina is headed, not where she was, not where she is, but where she’s headed,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic political strategist. “And when you have two qualified African American candidates vying to be a Democratic nominee (for U.S. Senate), I think that speaks volume about where people are standing in South Carolina.”

Bruce told The State that she has plans for a future in politics, but wasn’t sure what yet.

Matthews will face Scott — the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate who is rising in name ID as he visits early-voting states — and his sizeable campaign war chest. He’s raised $44 million for his campaign, with $24 million still left over.

Scott has said this will be his final term in the Senate if he’s reelection.

Matthews, who is still running for a third term for her House seat, told The State before the election that she didn’t set out to compete with Scott’s fundraising, and said Scott can’t compete with the connection she has with people. She said people don’t know Scott in the same “authentic” manner that her campaign strives for.

The state has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in nearly 20 years, since the late Sen. Fritz Hollings left office in 2005.

South Carolina also has not elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 2006.

“Any Democrat is going to have a tough time winning in South Carolina right now for a whole host of reasons, but probably top of mine are Tim Scott’s extreme popularity,” said Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston. “It is going to be be a ‘David versus Goliath’ type of battle. But that’s why they run campaigns, anything can happen. There’s always the possibility, but it’s certainly going to be an uphill battle.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.