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Assessing Nikki Haley’s “Short List”




Sources close to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley have provided CNN with her “short list” of possible appointments to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jim DeMint.

The list – comprised of U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, former S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford, former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) director Catherine Templeton – is sure to stoke all sorts of fresh speculation.  It raises as many questions as it answers, in other words … particularly as it relates to the inclusion of Sanford, who is emerging in the minds of many as the new favorite in this “race.”

And while we’ve reached the point of becoming cross-eyed over the constant speculation surrounding this appointment – it’s probably worth providing our readers with a bit of context regarding Haley’s five finalists (as well as our projected odds on their selection).

It’s also worth pointing out that aside from Sanford and Templeton – who are ideological mysteries – only Gowdy strikes us as having the potential to follow DeMint’s lead, making this a thoroughly unsatisfying list for fiscal conservatives.

Anyway, to the five finalists!


TIM SCOTT – U.S. Representative (SC-1)

The favorite from the moment DeMint announced his resignation, Scott would be a history-making pick – becoming the only black Republican in the Senate and only the fifth African-American to serve in that chamber since Reconstruction.

A first-term U.S. Representative from Charleston, S.C., Scott clearly wants the job – and is being pushed by national Republicans who are eager to bolster the party’s appeal to minorities.  He’s also being pushed by powerful interests from within South Carolina – and was among the most popular picks in a recent public opinion survey of Palmetto State voters.

In addition to all that, Scott hails from Charleston, S.C. – a politically independent region of the state where Haley is currently struggling.

No brainer, huh?  Not exactly.  Scott is not especially friendly with Haley, and his allegiance to fiscally liberal S.C. Speaker Bobby Harrell – a longtime antagonist – is viewed by many as a deal-breaker for the governor.

FITS ODDS: 1 in 3


TREY GOWDY – U.S. Representative (SC-4)

Trey Gowdy is another freshman U.S. Congressman – one who hails from South Carolina’s socially conservative (and reliably “Republican”) Upstate.  While not as high profile as his colleagues in the South Carolina delegation, Gowdy has been fairly consistent in his support of free market ideology – although his last-minute decision to back a “Boeing bailout” irked fiscal conservatives.  A former prosecutor, Gowdy doesn’t come across as your typical politician.  In fact we’re told he was seriously considering giving up his House seat in 2012 to pursue a judgeship – which is where is long-term interests supposedly reside.

Let’s be clear about one thing, though, Gowdy isn’t on Haley’s short list because of his ideology – he’s on the list because he represents a region of the state that Haley must keep happy if she is to have any chance at reelection in 2014.

Releasing a “short list” of candidates without a single name from the Upstate would have been a major slight … hence Gowdy’s presence here.

FITS ODDS: 1 in 20


JENNY SANFORD – Former S.C. First Lady

A brilliant political strategist, Jenny Sanford was the driving force behind her husband Mark’s meteoric political rise – managing his victorious congressional and gubernatorial campaigns for more than a decade.  A peerless intellect and relentless taskmaster, Sanford remains a mystery when it comes to ideology, though.

What isn’t a mystery?  Her popularity.

While we believe she overdid it in the aftermath of her husband’s extramarital affair (turning the whole “scorned wife” bit into an undignified cottage industry), most South Carolinians bought Sanford’s act.  As a result her approval ratings remain very high – particularly among the independent voters that Haley desperately needs to court if she hopes to revive her flagging fortunes.

Sanford holds a distinct advantage over the rest of the field, too, in that she is firmly under the sway of Jon Lerner – whom she collaborated with during her husband’s 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial bids and who is Haley’s political consultant.

In fact we think this race boils down to a choice between Sanford and Tim Scott …

FITS ODDS: 1 in 2


HENRY McMASTER – Former S.C. Attorney General

A thick-drawled, low intellect Southern political caricature, McMaster’s presence on this list is surprising.

The former SCGOP chairman and two-term Attorney General was viewed by insiders exclusively as a “placeholder” option – i.e. someone who would agree to serve until South Carolina voters selected a replacement for DeMint in 2014.  After Haley made it clear that she wasn’t interested in pursuing a “placeholder” pick, speculation surrounding McMaster dissipated … and with good reason.

Why is McMaster still in the running?  We don’t know … but given his background (as recently as three years ago he was still a member of a “whites only” country club), his appointment would be disastrous for Haley.  Even under normal circumstances, the dim-witted McMaster’s “Southern Partisan” roots would be enough to disqualify him.  With a black Republican having emerged as one of the early frontrunners for this seat, it would be political suicide for Haley to select McMaster.

Frankly, we view his inclusion as a sop to the political consulting empire of Richard Quinn – as well as a chance for her new “chief of staff” Bryan Stirling to save some face (Stirling – who used to work for McMaster – has been overshadowed during the appointment process by Tim Pearson, Haley’s “former” chief of staff).

FITS ODDS: 1 in 100

CATHERINE TEMPLETON – Director, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

Earlier this week our founding editor was interviewed by a reporter at The Washington Post about Haley’s choices.

“Don’t forget about Catherine Templeton,” we told him, which prompted a predictable response: “Who?

“She’s a close friend of the governor who runs the biggest agency in the state,” Sic Willie told the reporter. “And she’s hot.”

Like Jenny Sanford, Templeton’s ideological leanings are a mystery – as are her political ambitions (assuming she has any).  The former employment lawyer has done a commendable job getting a handle on the sprawling S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) – although she has yet to take a position on some of the key structural issues confronting our duplicative, inefficient state government (presumably out of deference to Haley).

Templeton is smart, tenacious and well-connected to some of South Carolina’s top business leaders – plus she’s got extensive experience dealing with federal law in both the public and private sectors.

FITS ODDS: 1 in 10