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2018 SC Governor’s Race: New Year, New Calculus




All the previous political calculus regarding the 2018 South Carolina gubernatorial race went out the window when U.S. president-elect Donald Trump chose the state’s incumbent Republican governor Nikki Haley as his ambassador to the United Nations.

Assuming Haley gets confirmed, that would make Trump’s top South Carolina ally – lieutenant governor Henry McMaster – the Palmetto State’s next governor.  And depending on how a looming S.C. Supreme Court case regarding executive succession is resolved, McMaster may even get to pick his successor.

Either way, McMaster – who was already likely to run for governor in 2018 – is all but assured of entering the 2018 campaign as the incumbent.  That gives him a significant advantage – in terms of fundraising, media attention and political patronage.

And assuming Trump stays popular in the Palmetto State, it also means he’s in line for a coveted endorsement.

Further solidifying McMaster’s position was the announcement that Trump was naming U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney as his budget director (news of which broke exclusively on FITS).  Prior to his appointment, Mulvaney was also considered a shoo-in to run for governor of South Carolina in 2018 – and he could very well have emerged as one of McMaster’s more credible, well-funded opponents.

Same with U.S. Senator Tim Scott – who was touted as a likely gubernatorial candidate at the top of a ticket that would have included U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy.

That plan quickly collapsed, however, when it was revealed Trump is likely to name Gowdy to a federal judgeship (news of which also broke exclusively here).

McMaster’s path was further cleared when embattled S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson – with the support of the state’s GOP establishment – pivoted away from a 2018 gubernatorial campaign and settled on running for a third term as the state’s top prosecutor.

Who does that leave in the race?

For starters, Catherine Templeton.

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The Lowcountry labor attorney and former director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) has made it clear she is running for governor no matter who is – or isn’t – in the race.  She’s also expected to post an impressive fundraising number when she files her formal paperwork for the office later this month.

“It could make this a head-to-head race between the outsider and the establishment,” one source close to Templeton’s campaign told us, referring to the success of her early fundraising efforts.

Templeton met with Trump recently in New York, but has not been offered a post in his administration.  She’s also reportedly had conversations with McMaster, although it’s not immediately clear what the two would-be rivals discussed.

Sources close to McMaster tell us Templeton has been approached in the event McMaster is empowered to name his successor as lieutenant governor.

“She would be a natural fit for that job,” one source told us, referring to the lieutenant governor’s office.

Templeton supporters agreed.

“She would be a real asset to him because she wants to govern – to get her hands dirty in the policy details,” one told us.  “I don’t think (McMaster) wants to do that.”

Would Templeton accept such an appointment?

“Probably not,” one of her top donors told us. “She’s invested a lot – and gotten a lot of people invested – in running in 2018.”

The office is also stigmatized by impotence – and a lack of upward mobility.

Lieutenant governors in South Carolina have been historically powerless – and thus limited in their political aspirations.  Hell, there is a history of people actively avoiding this office.  However beginning with the 2018 election, lieutenant governors will be elected on a ticket with gubernatorial candidates – opening the door to expanded roles for future office-holders within the administration.

That could be an ideal fit for Templeton – although we’re told certain top McMaster advisors and donors are concerned about whether or not the hard-charging attorney could be “contained” assuming she were even willing to entertain such speculation.

“She just wants to fix things,” one Templeton supporter told us.  “That’s why she’s running.  I don’t think she cares about power or politics or holding particular offices.  She just wants to fix things.”

Needless to say in South Carolina there is plenty to be fixed …

(Banner via S.C. Governor’s Office)