By Hastings Wyman –
Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who succeeded to the governorship when President Trump appointed then-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) ambassador to the United Nations, failed to win a majority in the Republican Primary last week. McMaster had a plurality – 42% – but businessman and Marine veteran John Warren came in second with 28%, so the two will meet in a June 26 runoff. Attorney Catherine Templeton was third with 21%, followed by Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant in single digits. In raw numbers, McMaster received 155,072 votes to Warren’s 102,006. Templeton received 78,432. All the Republican candidates ran as Trump enthusiasts. McMaster is 71, Warren 39.
The outcome “was a combination of Templeton’s attack, attack on Henry, and not looking in the rear-view mirror,” says Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based public affairs consultant. “Her media was terrible, it was erratic. There was an inference in her ads that the people in Columbia were snakes.”
“It was more about John Warren catching fire at the right time,” says Chad Walldorf, former chairman of the South Carolina Board of Economic Development. “The big story is the rise of John Warren. He certainly came on strong in the last couple of weeks, and he took [Templeton’s] spot in the runoff.” Warren founded a highly successful specialty mortgage finance company.
In any case, the results had to be a disappointment to Templeton, who had been crisscrossing the state for months wooing voters and raising money.
In McMaster’s favor in the runoff, he had a 50,000-vote plus lead over Warren in the first primary. That’s a large number of additional votes for a political newcomer to attract to the polls a second time. Moreover, McMaster’s vote was spread evenly across the state, while Warren’s was concentrated almost solely in Greenville County and several neighboring counties.
A poll taken the two days after the primary showed McMaster with 60% among likely runoff voters, to 31% for Warren. However, since the survey was taken so quickly after the June 12 vote, it may have exaggerated the governor’s lead.
“When you’ve got a known quantity like McMaster get 42%,” says Walldorf, “I don’t know that there’s a lot more folks out there to come out for him.” He adds, “People wanted something different, and a few more chose Warren than Templeton. John Warren has a real shot at it,”
In addition, Warren spent $3 million, almost all his own money. That suggests he will not be strapped for cash in the next two weeks.
Another factor in Warren’s favor is that he quickly visited with Templeton and Bryant and got their endorsements. Then the three of them toured the state, holding news conferences as they went.
Concludes Felkel, “If Trump is loyal and supports Henry like he owes him, then I think McMaster wins it.”
In the Democratic Primary, state Rep. James Smith was nominated outright, with 62% of the vote, followed by Florence lawyer Marguerite Willis with 28% and Democratic activist Phil Noble with 11%.
Does Smith have a shot in November? Maybe, maybe not. For starters, far more voters participated in the Republican Primary – 366,558 to 239,404 for the Democrats. Moreover, notes Felkel, “James Smith is not fighting Marguerite Willis. He’s out raising money” for the fall campaign.
“But he’s still a long shot. We’ll know better after the runoff.”