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#SC2018: Henry McMaster’s Donors Are Spinning

Incumbent donors accuse challenger of inflating her numbers …

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The news that GOP gubernatorial challenger Catherine Templeton out-raised incumbent “Republican” governor Henry McMaster during the third quarter of 2017 sent shock waves across the Palmetto political universe this week.

The words “stunned,” “shocker” and “speechless” got thrown around quite a bit …

We didn’t see it coming, either.

We knew the Lowcountry labor attorney was going to be competitive when it came to raising money, but we had no idea she would actually pull ahead of McMaster – at least in terms of money raised during the most recent reporting period.  Nor did we suspect Templeton would be able to match McMaster in available resources at this stage of the race.

Templeton collected $603,000 in campaign contributions between July 1 and September 30 – leaving her with roughly $1.9 million in cash on hand, according to filings with the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC).  Meanwhile McMaster raised just under $568,000 and also has approximately $1.9 million on hand.

Had you asked us at the beginning of the year where we thought the money race would be right now, we’d have guessed McMaster would be at around $3.5 million with Templeton struggling to break the $1 million mark.

That’s not how it’s worked out though … at all.

And while the incumbent will obviously get a big fundraising boost when U.S. president Donald Trump comes to town on Monday, it’s abundantly clear this race is going to be a dogfight …

McMaster boasted of a “ten year reign” after Trump appointed his predecessor, Nikki Haley, to his cabinet.  And he seemed poised to pull it off, too.  Unfortunately for the aging, status quo politician, he’s been dogged by poor decisions since taking office office – as well as his proximity to #ProbeGate, an ongoing, multi-jurisdictional criminal investigation into corruption in state government.

McMaster’s campaign has also been terribly managed … clumsily attacking Templeton (and paying the price for it).

“In Columbia, people across state government are already asking who Templeton likes for this job or that job,” one source close to the McMaster cabinet told us.  “They are starting to see this race as hers to lose.”

Are McMaster donors worried about the trajectory of the campaign?  If so, they aren’t showing it.

“Money and momentum are moving our way,” one McMaster donor told us.  “They know she’s not sustainable. And I hate to break it to her but no one outside the Columbia bubble knows who in the hell she is – which the polls are going to make clear very soon.”

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But is the money really moving in McMaster’s direction?   That’s not what the numbers show … at least not yet.

“Fourth quarter will be a different story,” one McMaster donor promised, referring to the fundraising quarter that began on October 1 and ends on December 31.

In addition to the forthcoming “Trump bump” – which they claim will be worth “at least $1 million” to McMaster’s campaign – McMaster’s donors believes Templeton is holding off on paying her bills in an effort to inflate her available cash.

“You need to be on top of (Templeton)’s expenditures,” one McMaster donor told us.  “There is a stark difference in payables.  She’s withholding bills so she can prop up her numbers.”

Sources close to Templeton brushed off that criticism.

“It’s just math,” one Templeton backer told us in response to the McMaster spin doctoring.

Indeed … math McMaster doesn’t like.

Make no mistake: Templeton still has an arduous task ahead of her if she wishes to upset the incumbent in next June’s GOP primary election.  A virtual unknown statewide, she must define herself to GOP voters on a host of issues and then communicate these positions across a multitude of platforms – all while defending herself against a host of incoming attacks.

Speaking of which … it goes without saying the money raised by each campaign won’t be the only cash spent in this race.  Special interest money from political action committees (PACs) and other independent expenditure groups will play a huge role in driving narratives.

We’ll have much more on that process in forthcoming posts …

In addition to Templeton and McMaster, lieutenant governor Kevin Bryant and former lieutenant governor Yancey McGill are also seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.  Bryant – who just announced his candidacy two-and-a-half months ago – has roughly $300,000 in his campaign bank account, of which $225,250 came in the form of a loan from the candidate.  As for McGill, he raised just $26,000 during the recent quarter and had less than $3,000 on hand.

Two Democrats – former S.C. House minority leader James Smith and Lowcountry businessman Phil Noble – have announced their intention to run for governor, but have yet to report their first fundraising results.

Several other Democrats are flirting with bids of their own …

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