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Henry McMaster Is Struggling Mightily

Who is best-positioned to take advantage?

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We wrote a few weeks ago that South Carolina governor Henry McMaster was struggling to distinguish himself in his response to the coronavirus pandemic – angering voters at points “up and down the Palmetto political spectrum” with his indecisiveness.

“On the ideological right, McMaster has been slammed for his initial embrace of draconian shutdown measures – efforts which appear to have only delayed the spread of the virus,” we wrote.

Meanwhile, on the left McMaster has been “castigated for failing to re-impose such measures” – and for failing to impose a “mask mandate” – as cases climbed.

Now McMaster’s struggles have begun to manifest themselves in terms of plummeting polling data, according to our sources.

Over the weekend, this news outlet spoke with several pollsters and strategists involved in various campaigns in different parts of the Palmetto State.

Their collective assessment? McMaster is tanking … everywhere.

Irrespective of geography, ideology or partisan affiliation, the incumbent governor is said to be experiencing substantially reduced levels of support among Palmetto State voters – a view these strategists are basing on surveys recently conducted in any number of congressional and legislative campaigns.

How bad is it? Our sources declined to provide specific numbers from individual districts, but to a person they pointed to a distinctly downward trend in McMaster’s approval rating over the last few weeks – as well as sharp upticks in the intensity levels of those who disapprove of his performance in office.

Perhaps the most concerning trend for McMaster? Even those who approve of his policies appear to be growing increasingly frustrated with him.

“You do not see that often,” one pollster told us. “He is losing the support of those who agree with him.”

Another pollster told us McMaster’s perceived subservience to U.S. president Donald Trump has become an anchor around his neck – albeit not in the way you might imagine.

“Independents and moderates who disapprove of Trump and his policies are more frustrated (with McMaster) than ever,” the pollster told us, adding that such a development is “to be expected” in the current hyper-charged political climate.

What’s unexpected?

“McMaster is also shedding conservative Trump backers, those generally inclined to approve of his policies” the pollster said, citing a recent U.S. congressional survey in which the governor had lost the support of five percent of Trump voters within the last month.

(Click to view)

(Via: File)

Focus group results from a handful of competitive legislative races have zeroed in on this curious phenomenon.

“What you have are voters who support Trump, who favor reopening the economy, who want to reopen schools, who hate masks, who hate lockdowns – yet these people are still going against him because they think he’s little more than a puppet,” a source familiar with this focus group research told us. “These voters don’t see him as his own man – they don’t see him as commanding the situation.”

As was the case in the 2018 election cycle, McMaster’s problems – while a statewide phenomenon – are more pronounced in the Upstate and Lowcountry regions of South Carolina, according to the pollsters who spoke with us.

Assuming these surveys are accurate, we have two questions: Can the present disaffection with McMaster (particularly on his right flank) carry through to an election cycle that is more than two years away? And if so, who is best positioned to capitalize on his troubles?

No one really knows the answer to that first question (or, in truth, whether McMaster will even make good on his current plans to seek reelection). So, we will focus on the second question …

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JOHN WARREN

(Via: Provided)

The Greenville, S.C. businessman gave McMaster a run for his money in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary – and his decision to sell his successful investment firm last fall has lined his pockets with cash. As we noted at the time, John Warren’s advisors indicated he was “willing to put close to $15 million into his next race.”

The potential availability of such a massive war chest – along with the name identification Warren picked up during his 2018 campaign – puts him atop any list of prospective challengers to McMaster.

Having said that, if Warren intends to capitalize on the early advantages he would have over a prospective “field” of McMaster challengers then he must assemble a more experienced team of strategists in 2022 – and improve his political instincts/ retail skills.

Also, Warren needs to get back into the arena … fast.

According to our sources, the Marine veteran has been reticent to publicly criticize McMaster during the pandemic over fears that the governor and his allies would attack him for “politicizing” a crisis. While it is certainly wise to take such considerations into account, Warren should never allow the potential for such blowback to dissuade him from weighing in decisively when he feels such an opportunity presents itself.

Particularly if he is proposing a substantive alternative to McMaster’s ineffectual policies …

After all, there is clearly an appetite right now for such “alternatives.”

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CATHERINE TEMPLETON

(Via: Templeton for Governor)

This Lowcountry labor attorney and former member of governor Nikki Haley’s cabinet finished third in the 2018 governor’s race – admittedly failing to live up to her vast political potential. But those dismissing Catherine Templeton as a viable contender in future campaigns based on one failed bid do so at their own peril.

Aggressively courted by national Republicans to run against Joe Cunningham in the South Carolina first congressional district, Templeton wisely demurred – preferring to keep her options open for a possible statewide race.

“The assets Templeton brings to the table are no less lustrous following her loss,” we wrote in the fall of 2018, calling her “beautiful, brilliant and infinitely well-connected.” Her connections also run exceedingly deep when it comes to raising money – which has become infinitely harder to do in recent months (and is only getting harder).

Also worth considering? If the coronavirus is still a looming issue during the 2022 campaign, who better to tackle it than the former leader of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC)? Many times in recent weeks we have found ourselves wishing Templeton – as opposed to McMaster’s political appointees – were still in charge of this agency.

In 2018, Templeton and Warren effectively canceled each other out against McMaster – allowing the incumbent to eke out an uninspiring victory. Our guess is that same mistake will not be made twice. In fact, there has even been speculation the two might run on the same ticket …

If that happens, McMaster is in real trouble …

***

ALAN WILSON

(Via: Alan Wilson for Attorney General)

S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson’s political comeback has been nothing short of miraculous – marking one of the most impressive revivals/ reinventions of any elected official we have ever seen in our two decades of following Palmetto politics. Left for dead in 2016 after some acknowledged miscalculations related to the #ProbeGate investigation, Wilson bounced back with a decisive 2018 primary victory (and an equally decisive win over a credible, well-funded general election opponent).

Since then, the third-term attorney general has been on fire – emerging as one of the more substantive elected officials in the state on a host of different hot-button issues.

With a highly visible statewide platform (one he has learned to leverage adeptly), Wilson has the potential to drive the news cycle in South Carolina – particularly as a recent rash of violence has brought law-and-order concerns back to the forefront of the public debate.

Would the third term attorney general run against the man he followed into office, though? The two elected officials are regarded as friends, although we are told the governor’s influential chief of staff Trey Walker has sought to drive a wedge between them – believing Wilson to be a credible threat to McMaster’s 2022 reelection.

***

MOLLY SPEARMAN

(Via: File)

South Carolina superintendent of education Molly Spearman made a clear break with McMaster last month over the latter’s push to reopen the state’s failing government-run schools. This move drew plaudits from teachers and the mainstream media – putting her at the forefront of one of the most contentious issues du jour.

Could this declaration of independence be the opening salvo in a pitched primary battle against McMaster? Of all the names on this list, Spearman’s has been whispered into our ear more than any other in recent days – although when all is said and done we believe she is probably less likely to consider such a campaign than the others.

Arguably the most liberal Republican holding statewide office in South Carolina (a state where GOP rule is more left of center than you might imagine), Spearman would likely find a top-of-the-ticket race much tougher sledding than a comparatively unscrutinized down-ballot race.

Still, her recent friction with the governor’s office is worth keeping an eye on in the event it develops into something more concrete and better organized …

***

PAMELA EVETTE

(Via: Office of Lieutenant Governor)

Wait … isn’t Pamela Evette McMaster’s 2022 running mate?

Yes, but …

Kept on a tight leash by the governor’s office over the last year-and-a-half, the Ohio transplant has been a bit more visible in recent months – but that was only after we published a lengthy spread highlighting the extent to which McMaster had been relegating her to the shadows.

Wealthy and well-connected in the South Carolina Upstate, Evette has made no secret of her gubernatorial ambitions – and like Warren she has the resources to fuel these ambitions should she choose to do so.

Given the low-profile imposed upon her by McMaster (and the higher profile of some of the other names on this list), Evette would certainly have her work cut out for her should she decide to make a break from her running mate – but the raw potential is there.

Is Evette a credible threat to McMaster? We don’t know … but the governor’s advisors certainly seem to think so …

***

What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our always engaging comments section below …

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