S.C. House Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, is running against current District 20 Sen. Richard “Dick” Harpootlian of Richland County in the June 11 Democratic primary for the newly drawn state Senate District 26 seat.

District 26 previously covered portions of Aiken, Calhoun, Lexington and Saluda counties. Due to redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census, it has been redrawn to include portions of Lexington County and larger tracts of Calhoun and Richland.

Harpootlian was drawn into the new district.

The district has been represented by Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, who is retiring after 47 years of service. 

Despite being held by a Democrat for more than four decades, the Senate 26 seat has become more competitive for Republicans recently.

The Democratic share of the vote has decreased each election cycle from 63% in 2008 to 54% in 2020, according to the S.C Election Commission.

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The race has not been without drama.

Harpootlian criticized Ott’s work for South Carolina Farm Bureau, for which Ott previously served as a lobbyist.

Harpootlian questioned if Ott worked for the people or the Farm Bureau, of which his father is state president. Harpootlian suggested Ott should recuse himself from voting on agricultural-related legislation.

Ott says he can vote on general agricultural-related legislation but not on legislation specifically related to Farm Bureau.

The winner will face one of three Republican candidates vying for the seat.

Jason Guerry of Columbia, Billy R. Oswald of West Columbia and Christopher Smith of West Columbia are battling in the June 11 Republican primary.

Worker Party candidate Harold Geddings will also be a candidate in the general election in November.

The winner will serve a four-year term.


A widely known Columbia attorney, Harpootlian has served in the S.C. Senate since 2018.

He currently serves on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Harpootlian has received endorsements from Congressman Jim Clyburn and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

“Since taking office, my commitment has been to transform how government operates — eliminating fraud, waste and abuse, ensuring it truly serves the people,” he said. “My tenure has been marked by significant efforts to attract good jobs and major economic initiatives to the Midlands.”

Harpootlian also noted his work during the COVID pandemic.

“I supported local business owners by helping them stay open and connect to essential resources,” Harpootlian said. “I’ve also been a staunch defender of women’s rights, actively opposing extreme political attacks and pushing to repeal South Carolina’s dangerous abortion ban.

“My work against corruption, particularly at the Richland County Election Commission, and against wasteful spending in state agencies underscores my dedication to efficient and ethical governance.”

“Looking ahead, my priorities are clear,” Harpootlian said. “I am committed to expanding Medicaid to improve health care accessibility, defending women’s autonomy over their own bodies against governmental overreach, and implementing sensible gun control measures to prevent violence while respecting rights.”

“These priorities aim to create a safer, healthier and more equitable South Carolina for everyone,” Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian says he brings “a unique combination of experiences and skills that make me well-suited for this role.”

“My background as a prosecutor, where I jailed violent criminals to keep our communities safe, and my tenure as a private attorney, where I’ve fought relentlessly for justice, equip me with a strong foundation in legal and governmental issues,” Harpootlian said. “My ability to take on tough fights and not shy away from confronting powerful interests has been demonstrated throughout my career.”

“I’ve worked hard to maintain integrity and focus on delivering results, which is something I believe sets me apart from many others in politics,” Harpootlian continued. “I have successfully stopped wasteful spending by state agencies, reformed the election commission to ensure fairer elections, and have been instrumental in securing major economic deals that benefit our community.”

When Harpootlian won the Senate 20 seat in 2018 during a special election, he narrowly flipped the Republican district blue.

He defeated Benjamin Dunn for the seat formerly held by Republican John Courson, who resigned after pleading guilty to mishandling campaign funds.

Harpootlian is no stranger to Democratic politics in the state.

He served on Richland County Council from 1987 through 1991.

He served as chair of the state Democratic Party from 1998 to 2003 and then from 2011 to 2013.

He ran for attorney general of South Carolina in 1994, losing to Charlie Condon in the general election.

Harpootlian most recently represented convicted killer and prominent attorney Alex Murdaugh in his murder trial last year. Murdaugh was eventually convicted on two counts of murder.

A native of New York State, Harpootlian was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he went to high school.

He received his bachelor of arts from Clemson University in 1971 and his juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1974.

Harpootlian served as prosecutor for the 5th Judicial Circuit of South Carolina from 1971 to 1976 and deputy solicitor from 1976 to 1983.

Harpootlian then opened up Swerling & Harpootlian in 1983 through 1991.

He then served as solicitor for the 5th Judicial Circuit of South Carolina from 1991 to 1995.

During that time, he prosecuted serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins. Gaskins was put to death by the electric chair in 1991.

Harpootlian then opened up his own law practice in 1995 until the present.

Harpootlian is a member of a number of organizations to include: the Richland County Bar Association; the South Carolina Association for Justice; the South Carolina Federal Bar Association; the John Belton O’Neall Inn of Court; the American Board of Trial Advocates; the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association; South Carolina Super Lawyers 2011-12, 2014-15; and the Supreme Court of SC Docket Management Task Force 2011-12.

Harpootlian is married to Jamie Harpootlian and is father to Kate Harpootlian. Jamie is currently the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia.

Harpootlian enjoys spending time with his wife, daughter and dog Raylan.

Ott, who has represented S.C. House District 93 since 2013, chose to run for the Senate seat “to find commonsense solutions to the problems facing South Carolina.”

“With Sen. Nikki Setzler retiring after many years of service, we need someone who can represent all of the people in this very diverse district,” Ott said. “At the end of the day, this job is about serving the people. That’s what folks in Calhoun, Lexington and Richland deserve.”

“During my 11 years in the Statehouse, I’ve tried to bring people together and find common ground,” Ott said. “I reject the idea that politics has to be divisive. I believe in showing up, rolling up my sleeves and getting to work for the people who elected me.”

Ott cites his record as speaking for him.

“I have a proven track record of working across the aisle to get things done,” Ott said. “That’s what it takes to be an effective legislator, especially as a Democrat in our state.”

“So whether it’s improving our public schools, getting more revenue to fix our roads and bridges, making birth control more accessible to women or protecting ratepayers and ensuring access to more affordable, reliable energy, I’ve worked hard to pass legislation that improves the lives of South Carolinians,” Ott said.

If elected to the Senate, Ott says his top priority, as always, will be public education.

“We must improve the quality of our public schools across the state,” Ott said. “Education is the way to solve so many of the problems facing our state. Right now, there’s an effort to take public money and send it to private schools. I am opposed to private school vouchers and I’ll continue to lead the fight if I’m elected to the Senate.”

Ott said he will also make improving the health care system a priority.

“That starts with expanding Medicaid, which we should have done 10 years ago,” Ott said. “This would get health care coverage to thousands of working people who don’t currently qualify. In the House, I’ve led efforts to make health care more affordable and accessible and that will remain one of my top priorities in the Senate.”

Another priority is the importance of managing growth.

“We need to make improvements to our infrastructure, like water and sewer, in areas where its needed,” Ott said. “We need to make these improvements for the people who live here, not just when we want to attract new businesses.”

“As South Carolina continues to grow, we should ensure that job opportunities are available in all areas of our state, not just the most affluent parts,” Ott continued.

Other issues Ott has cited are his concerns related to the rising cost of living, crime and the environment.

Ott says he’s also interested in reforming government to make it more transparent.

He has been endorsed by St. Matthews Mayor Helen Carson-Peterson, Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, Swansea Mayor Viola McDaniel and Pine Ridge Mayor Daniel Davis.

Ott won the House seat in a special election after his father, Harry L. Ott Jr., resigned in 2013.

Before being elected to the Statehouse, Ott served as administrator for the towns of Elloree, North and Neeses, and as a lobbyist for South Carolina Farm Bureau from 2004 to 2013. He stepped down from his lobbyist position to assume his House seat.

He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University and a master of public administration from the University of South Carolina. He is father of two.

He currently serves on the House committees on Labor, Commerce and Industry and Legislative Oversight.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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