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#SC2018: Silent Governor’s Race

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After months of multiple headlines per day, the 2018 governor’s race in South Carolina has gone silent …

The end of the partisan primary season has given way to a summer lull, with both major party nominees devoting large chunks of their time to fundraising efforts.  Henry McMaster – the “Republican” incumbent – and Democratic challenger James Smith have been on the campaign trail to some extent, but their main focus at the moment is raising the dollars they will need to be competitive in November.

Winning their party’s respective nominations obviously depleted those accounts … meaning both candidates are having to “dial for dollars.”

While they do that, many South Carolinians are taking summer vacation before their children return to school

McMaster reported having only $221,000 on hand following his bruising primary battle (and narrow runoff election win over Upstate businessman John Warren).  Of course the establishment politician will be able to print money as the GOP nominee – and as we noted in a recent exclusive report he has also been able to rely on shadowy third party groups to support his candidacy.

As for Smith, his most recent fundraising report showed him with only around $128,000 on hand.

His challenge?  Convincing donors he can mount a credible challenge to a scandal-scarred incumbent in South Carolina – which hasn’t elected a Democrat to a statewide office in a dozen years (and hasn’t elected one governor in two decades).  The Palmetto State also backed U.S. president Donald Trump by a 55-41 percent margin during the most recent general election.

Can Smith overcome that sort of gap?

It’s possible …

State senator Vincent Sheheen nearly knocked off former S.C. governor Nikki Haley during the 2010 gubernatorial election – and probably would have beaten her had she not been running in a “Republican” wave election (straight ticket voters saved Haley’s bacon that year).  Democrats tell us Smith is an infinitely superior candidate to Sheheen – and that they are the ones with the “wave” behind them in 2018.

Shouldn’t that make this race competitive?  Eh …

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In South Carolina, it’s important to remember that even the best Democratic candidate starts at a decided disadvantage.  Basically, forty percent of the state’s electorate is going to pull the lever … errr, tap the touchscreen … for a Democrat no matter what.  Meanwhile, around fifty percent are inclined to do the same for a “Republican.”

The only real drama?  How big the GOP candidate’s margin of victory is going to be.

Smith is definitely a better candidate than Sheheen.  He is a war hero.  Attractive.  With a better network behind him.

But Smith (below) has spent twenty years in the S.C. State House … meaning he has two decades worth of recorded votes that GOP ad writers are salivating over.  Basically, McMaster and his shadowy political action committees are going to carpet bomb Smith with the word “liberal” (not inaccurately, we would add) to the point where absolutely zero of the fifty percent of the electorate predisposed to voting “Republican” would touch him with a ten-foot pole.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

McMaster?  While the guffawing caricature of a politician appears to be in the clear as it relates to the suddenly silent #ProbeGate investigation of his former political consultant, Richard Quinn, we’re not sure even a “worst case scenario” (i.e. an indictment of the incumbent) would sink him at this point.

The scandal that was all the rage a year ago has simply vanished from the headlines over the last two months …

And while McMaster refuses to protect taxpayers or substantively address South Carolina’s increasingly expensive dumpster fire of a government (or address its worsening employment situation), here’s the sad thing: No one seems to care.

The best news for McMaster?  A lack of credible options on the ballot …

As we noted last month, the incumbent cleared a critical reelection hurdle when no petition candidates submitted signatures for the governor’s race.  This means the monolithic “Republican” vote cannot be segmented (and suppressed) along its many ideological fault lines – which would have been essential for Democrats hoping to change the calculus of the race.

As we explained in a hypothetical …

… 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.

The goal of such a segmentation strategy would be to reduce the overall universe of predisposed “Republicans,” which would in theory give Democrats a fighting chance in November.  But with no other options on the ballot, McMaster has nothing to fear.

At least that’s our take on the race at this early stage of the general election …

Obviously anything can happen in the three months between now and November 6, but as of this writing McMaster is in the driver’s seat to win his first full four-year term as governor.

After that?  It’s complicated …

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