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2018 SC Governor: Tom Davis’ Calculus




We’ve written previously on efforts by libertarians to draft Republican S.C. Senator Tom Davis as their gubernatorial nominee in 2018.  Meanwhile, Davis is among the top tier of GOP candidates eyeing the governor’s office in the June 2018 Republican primary.

Has anybody bothered to ask the soon-to-be third-term state lawmaker whether he’s running, though?

After all, Davis’ position in the State Senate has dramatically improved following a wave of retirements and the defeat of multiple lawmakers during the 2016 primary season.  Also, with several aging Republican Senators likely to step down at the end of the next term – Davis is in position to gain some real seniority in that chamber over the next few years.

In a legislatively dominated state, ranking lawmakers wield far more actual power than the state’s governor – whose executive authority is severely limited by the state’s antiquated 1895 constitution.

Wouldn’t Davis see the legislative path as more appealing – and efficacious – in advancing his particular brand of pro-freedom, pro-free market libertarianism?

Viewed another way … does he have a choice?

Several longtime political operatives in the GOP say any attempt by Davis to obtain their party’s nomination is a nonstarter, citing “the extreme shift to the left” Davis has taken on social issues.

On the surface there’s some merit to this view – Davis authored bills (eventually passed by the legislature and signed into law by governor Nikki Haley) legalizing marijuana oil for epilepsy patients, striking down centuries old bans on social games of chance like poker and bridge and providing for the expungement of one-time non-violent juvenile crimes when one turns eighteen.

“He’s productive legislatively,” one of Davis’ liberal Senate colleagues grudgingly admitted.  “Some in his party say he’s ‘obstructionist’ but his record of legislative accomplishment strongly suggests otherwise.”

Beyond adopting several socially “liberal” positions (which we would actually argue are more mainstream than ever these days), Davis is the S.C. General Assembly’s undisputed fiscal conservative champion.  He’s successfully blocked gasoline tax hikes in the State Senate for two years running – prompting that chamber’s liberal GOP leader, Hugh Leatherman, to attempt an end-around in an effort to get this unnecessary levy passed.

Can that sort of issues matrix capture the South Carolina governor’s mansion?

“I think the next Republican governor will win on being an outsider and change agent,” one top GOP official told us.  “The specific issues don’t matter as much as (the) presentation.”

An Upstate GOP advisor disputed that assessment.

“Issues matter very much and he’s just too far to the left on them,” the consultant told us.

Davis said he was indeed considering a gubernatorial run in 2018 – as a Republican – but that his immediate focus was on the upcoming session of the S.C. General Assembly and “getting more good legislation passed and more bad legislation stopped.”

“I’m looking forward to representing Beaufort County in the State Senate,” he told us.

“I think there’s a real opportunity right now to move the GOP in the direction it should go – which is in favor of maximizing and defending individual liberty,” he added. “For me that may include running for governor in 2018 – it may not.”

If Davis runs as a Republican, he would face a crowded field.

Statewide elected officials including lieutenant governor Henry McMaster and attorney general Alan Wilson are both likely to run, as is U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney – who just scored a decisive victory against a well-funded Democratic candidate in the state’s fifth congressional district.

S.C. speaker pro tempore Tommy Pope has already announced his candidacy, as has former Democratic lieutenant governor Yancey McGill – who switched parties to run for governor earlier this year.

Other candidates mulling bids include Lowcountry attorney Catherine Templeton, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, S.C. Rep. Kirkman Finlay and Columbia, S.C. businessman Bill Stern.

Numerous other names have been floated in recent months, and we suspect the field will begin to take more definitive shape in January of next year.

(Banner via Tom Davis FB)