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#SC2018: Reform Rivals Invade Each Other’s Turf

South Carolina’s governor is increasingly an observer in his own race …

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There’s a furious battle underway for the South Carolina governor’s mansion … and it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the incumbent governor who is supposed to have a lock on reelection.

In fact Henry McMaster – the status quo “Republican” who currently enjoys a commanding lead in the polls (and the support of U.S. president Donald Trump) – has been reduced to a bit part in this evolving political drama.

The stars of the show?  Lowcountry labor attorney Catherine Templeton (who has been taking the fight to McMaster ever since she announced her candidacy last year) and Upstate businessman/ Marine veteran John Warren (who jumped into the race with a splash earlier this month).

This week, Templeton and Warren invaded each other’s back yards – with the former visiting the Poinsett Club in Greenville, S.C. and the latter stopping by the East Cooper Republican Club in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Both delivered well-honed, anti-establishment messages to their respective audiences …

“The good ol’ boys are back in their smoke-filled rooms, and they are lining each other’s pockets and they are scratching each other’s backs, and they’re not protecting us,” Templeton told the Upstate crowd.  “It is time that we have a conservative outsider.”

Meanwhile Warren delivered a similarly effective, reform-minded message to the GOP faithful in Templeton’s home town.

“What I am is a businessman, a Marine and a conservative,” he said.  “What I am not is a career politician, a bureaucrat or a lawyer.  Marines run to the sound of trouble.  We have lots of trouble in Columbia right now.  We need a leader and an outsider to turn things around.”

Those are precisely the sort of offerings voters want to hear right now, and Templeton and Warren represent the ideal “outsider” messengers – young, attractive, articulate and boasting successful, non-political backgrounds.

Individually and taken together, their candidacies represent a stark contrast to the 70-year-old career politician currently residing at 800 Richland Street in downtown Columbia, S.C. – a glad-handing, guffawing caricature who has been a part of the state’s failed GOP status quo for decades.

After having the governor’s mansion gift-wrapped for him by Trump (and having the president campaign for him last fall), McMaster was supposed to be a shoo-in for reelection.  It hasn’t worked out that way.

Tainted by scandal and exposed as a fiscally liberal leader, McMaster has struggled mightily as chief executive of the state – flip-flopping on high-profile issues and costing the state credibility on the economic development front.

His cabinet is also – with a few exceptions – an unmitigated disaster, although much of that is residual incompetence carried over from the administration of former governor Nikki Haley.

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Still, McMaster has been in office over a year now … meaning he owns the failures of his predecessor.

There’s been no credible poll of the 2018 governor’s race released since Warren announced his candidacy, and at this stage of the race even the most accurate surveys – like the one released in early January by the well-respected Trafalgar Group – show McMaster with a substantial lead by virtue of his name identification (i.e. he’s the only candidate most voters know).

Those polls will yield dramatically different results when Templeton begins to unload her sizable war chest – and when Warren’s candidacy, which is likely to include a mix of donations and money pumped in by the candidate, starts spending liberally on paid messaging.

Also, S.C. lieutenant governor Kevin Bryant is already polling at double digits – although he is unlikely to be able to devote the same amount of cash to his candidacy that Templeton and Warren will be able to devote to theirs.

Still, that’s three credible candidates chomping at McMaster’s heels … 

In South Carolina, partisan primary races in which no candidate receives a majority of votes on the first ballot advance to a runoff election.  That race is held two weeks after the primary, and features a head-to-head matchup between the top two vote-getters.

Conventional wisdom dictates that McMaster – while no longer a lock to win reelection – is assured of being among the top two finishers when GOP voters go to the polls on June 12.

Is it possible McMaster could finish in third place on the first round of voting?  Yes … but at this point we don’t see that happening (especially if Trump continues to back McMaster’s flagging candidacy).

That does create some interesting dynamics for his three top challengers, though, who will need each other’s support in the event one of them lands in the runoff against the incumbent.

Stay tuned … and be sure to click on our #SC2018 tag to follow the very latest news on this race (and other statewide races this year).

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