In Richland and Kershaw Counties, race for solicitor isn't over yet

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It was a big primary night win for Byron Gipson, who unseated embattled Solicitor Dan Johnson in a landslide and, in doing so, secured the Democratic nomination to become the next solicitor for Richland and Kershaw Counties.

"I've had, you know, lawyers who have been in this business for 40 years say, you know, this campaign has reinforced their belief in our democracy," Gipson said Wednesday morning.

However, Gipson has a message to his passionate supporters.

"We may have an opponent, and we'll know that by mid-July. We'll know if we have an opponent or not," he warned.

Gipson is referring to John Meadors, who was an assistant solicitor in Richland and Kershaw Counties and now prosecutes cases part-time in Sumter County. He's also a part-time attorney for McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates. He's run for Fifth Circuit Solicitor two times before. Both bids, including one against Johnson in 2010, were unsuccessful.

Meadors feels more confident about 2018.

"My professional life has primarily been in the courtroom," Meadors said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Meadors isn't the Republican nominee, because there isn't one. Instead, he hopes to become a petition candidate, which means his name will be on the ballot next to Gipson's name if Meadors pulls off a big task:  he'll need signatures from 1,000 voters in Richland and Kershaw Counties.

"My strategy is to appeal to everybody, to every voter," he said. "The solicitor's office — you don't prosecute somebody based on whether you were a Republican or you're a Democrat."

Bob Oldendick, a professor of political science for the University of South Carolina, believes Meadors has a "less than 50% chance" of getting the 10,000 signatures required by law to be placed on the ballot. Even if he does, Gipson will still be the favorite, Oldendick said.

Despite the long odds, Meadors says he's all in. He said he would have filed before the cut-off in the spring, but he and his wife hadn't yet come to a "meeting of the minds" before that deadline.

"I think the voters spoke yesterday for a change. I think now, and the reason I'm running, is that office now, perhaps more than ever, needs somebody that's got not only prosecutorial experience but career prosecutorial experience," he said.

All day Tuesday, Meadors and his volunteers collected signatures outside precincts across Kershaw and Richland Counties. After those efforts, he says he's 75% of the way to the 10,000 required, which means he needs just about 2,500 more signatures, and he has about five more weeks to get them.

With that said, Gipson says his supporters can't be complacent.

"The primary is important. That's step one. But now we have to make sure we're the last man standing, so to speak," said Gipson.

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