ROCK HILL --
Terry Hutchinson, the apparent winner of a very tight race for the Rock Hill school board, eked out a narrow win thanks to an outpouring of conservative support and his opponents splitting the vote, the candidates said Wednesday.
With absentee ballots counted, Hutchinson received 9,327 votes, 79 votes ahead of Wayne Wingate, according to unofficial results. Dan Ballou finished third with 8,965 votes. Tyrie Rowell received 3,354 votes.
The vote tally wont be finalized until Friday, after election officials verify 1,100 provisional ballots. Its not yet clear whether any of those could affect the school board races outcome, York County elections director Wanda Hemphill said.
I told it like I thought it, Hutchinson said of his campaign. It was my palm cards, my signs, the media and my network of conservative friends spreading the word.
The election for Bob Norwoods open at-large seat was the most hotly contested school board race in the county.
With Norwood retiring, four candidates ran to replace him: Hutchinson, an automotive technician at Pep Boys; Wingate, a Rock Hill native and business owner whose wife teaches literacy education in the district; Ballou, a Rock Hill attorney with two daughters in the district; and Tyrie Rowell, a 22-year-old South Pointe High graduate who works as an after-school program associate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Ballou and Wingate, well-known in Rock Hill as active school volunteers who share some of the same friends and supporters, knew they would be fighting for votes from the same crowd. But both were shocked that neither managed to topple Hutchinson, who campaigned as a conservative outsider with no ties to the district.
I was surprised, said Wingate, who called Hutchinson on Wednesday morning to congratulate him. I thought it would be Dan or I.
All agree Ballou and Wingate each received votes the other would have gotten had they not both run.
That was to my advantage, said Hutchinson, adding that he was surprised both Wingate and Ballou stayed in the race.
When I heard both of them were on the ballot, I was wondering whether one of them would drop out, he said.
Ballou and Wingate wished Hutchinson well and said they have no regrets.
Hutchinson said he ran a $1,500 campaign. That bought signs, palm cards, pens and fliers, some of which he admitted contained spelling errors.
Hutchinsons wife, Grace, and close friends made the biggest difference in his campaign, he said, spending hours reaching out to voters throughout the area of 46 voter precincts.
GPS, a conservative political action committee with tea party ties, lent a hand, donating $100 and sending volunteers to campaign for Hutchinson.
Ballou, former chairman of the York County Democratic Party, questioned whether Hutchinsons links to GPS, members of which have advocated for tighter school budgets and tax credits for families who put children in private school, would make it tough to work with the school board.
Youve got to give it to Terry, Ballou said. I think he had a pretty good tea party-organized backing. There was a level of organization at work we hadnt seen before.
I wish him luck, but if he is as backed by tea party interests as I think he may be, that could be a challenge for him. I hope he appreciates how much our community values public education.
Hutchinson, who said hes not a tea party or GPS member, said he ran because hes eager to serve and bring his conservative view to the school board.
He said hes attended GPS meetings in the past and agrees with the groups views, particularly concerning fiscal restraint. But he hasnt become a member because he believes the group can be overzealous.
GPS president Larry Barnett confirmed that Hutchinson is not a member.
We gave Terry some support, he said. We look around the county and state for people who are conservative.
As for whether the group is overzealous, I cant dispute that, Barnett said. We have some members who get very excited from time to time.
One issue that could spark tension on the school board concerns private school tax credits.
All seven current Rock Hill school board members oppose giving tax credits to families who send children to private school. Hutchinson said hes in favor of those credits so long as theres a cap to prevent wealthy families from taking advantage.
I do support the idea because of one thing only, and that is parents choice to put their kids in the school they feel is best, Hutchinson said.
But thats not an issue he aims to raise any time soon.
Hutchinson said he prefers to focus on expanding the districts number of magnet campuses and schools of choice, which are open to any student in the district and offer specialized programs such as arts or STEM education.
Im more concerned with doing what is best for children through the eyes of their parents, Hutchinson said. If I have to stir the pot, I will. Of course weve heard this kind of rhetoric from politicians before. But I try to do as I say Im going to do.
I dont want to go in and ruffle all sorts of feathers before I get in there. Its all going to come down to compromise.