Incumbent “Republican” governor Henry McMaster ran a terrible 2018 campaign – limping across the finish line ass-first to claim the GOP gubernatorial nomination on June 26.
McMaster won his partisan primary race because his top two opponents – Upstate businessman John Warren and Lowcountry labor attorney Catherine Templeton – not only split the GOP anti-establishment vote, but were forced to bash each other in an effort to get into a runoff election against the 71-year-old career politician.
By the time one of them (Warren) did manage to make it into a head-to-head race with McMaster, they were cash-strapped and badly weakened from the body blows …
Still, McMaster needed a last-second visit from U.S. president Donald Trump to drag him (again, ass-first) across the finish line.
He probably won’t need as much dragging in November, though …
Despite getting just 53.7 percent of the GOP vote last month, McMaster enters the 2018 general election as a heavy favorite against Afghan War veteran James Smith – arguably the best candidate the Democrats have put up at the statewide level in decades.
Why is McMaster (a weak GOP candidate who has yet to mend fences with his former rivals) favored against a credible Democrat? Because South Carolina is a “Republican” state … for whatever that’s been worth. It hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 2006. And it hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998.
Also, Smith has spent twenty years as a state lawmaker … meaning he has a very long, very liberal voting record that is likely to be mainlined into the televisions, mailboxes and social media feeds this fall.
That’s going to be tough to overcome …
Smith’s real challenge is simple math: In a South Carolina general election, “Republicans” start off with about fifty percent of the vote in their back pockets. All they have to do is hold onto it. Democrats start with about forty percent of the vote, basically meaning they need a miracle to win.
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In early 2013, this news site’s founding editor Will Folks traveled to a certain rural corner of the Palmetto State at the request of a prominent Democratic operative. There, after scarfing down some of the best fried chicken he’s ever had in his life, he outlined a proposal to segment and suppress the “Republican” electorate in the upcoming election – geographically and ideologically.
Unfortunately for the Palmetto State’s perpetual minority party, Folks’ plan was never adopted (probably due to lack of resources).
As a result, “Republicans” cruised to victory in 2014 … a year that probably should have seen them lose some ground.
Obviously every election is different, but this “segment and suppress” plan would have basically worked like this …
1) Identify ideological fault lines within the GOP electorate …
2) Recruit petition/ third party candidates to exploit these fractures …
3) Subsidize these petition candidacies via independent expenditure groups …
For example, a fiscally conservative Libertarian candidate might peel off a certain chunk of the GOP base in the Lowcountry – while a socially conservative pro-life candidate might peel off another chunk of the “Republican” electorate in the Upstate. If the GOP nominee is an establishment politician (like McMaster), maybe a Tea Party petition candidate runs in the Rock Hill or Grand Strand area of the state to peel off additional support. Or if the GOP nominee is a reformer, maybe an establishment “Republican” runs in the Midlands region of the state.
Get the picture?
The key is having credible, well-funded alternatives … candidates whose campaigns know how to use data to drive turnout.
Also critical to the effort? Making sure that these campaigns are coordinated … without there being any direct coordination (which is against the law).
Seriously … if Democrats appropriated just $500,000 to $1 million of they money they spend quadrennially on their electioneering efforts toward a segmentation/ suppression plan like this, our guess is they could peel 5-7 percent off of the GOP base. Maybe more.
Which means they would have a fighting chance in November …
Such an effort won’t be mounted this year, though.
How do we know? Because a petition candidate must file 10,000 signatures with the S.C. Election Commission (SCVotes.org) if they wish for their name to appear on the November ballot. And those signatures are due at 12:00 p.m. EDT on June 16 (this coming Monday).
We’ve seen nothing to suggest an organized effort is underway to file candidates ahead of this deadline … which means McMaster (with little fanfare) is about to clear a major hurdle in his bid to win a full term as governor of South Carolina.
There is one third party candidate – Martin Berry of the American Party – whose name will appear on the November ballot, but our guess is you’ve never heard of him before. And probably won’t between now and November 6.
Bottom line? Democrats are letting a golden opportunity to enhance their competitiveness in the bright red Palmetto State slip through their fingers …
WANNA SOUND OFF?
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