BRACK:  Despite challengers, McMaster favored in 2018 governor’s race

McMaster, Bryant, McGill and Templeton

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher  |  After mentioning the lieutenant governor was probably going to jump into the 2018 race for governor, the guy – a well-educated professional with at least two college degrees – asked, “Who’s the lieutenant governor?”

“Kevin Bryant,” I replied.

“Then who’s the governor?” he asked.

“Henry McMaster.”

“O.K.  I’ve heard of him.”

Therein lies the challenge for the growing field of Republicans with gubernatorial aspirations:  McMaster, while not brimming with strength, has buckets of name recognition earned from three decades in state politics, including eight years as attorney general, eight years as head of the state GOP, and statewide campaigns for U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and governor.

Bryant, who joined the race Friday morning, was a socially-conservative state senator from Anderson who agreed to become lieutenant governor after McMaster took the top job in January after Nikki Haley resigned to become the nation’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Bryant, filled with the vim and vigor of a guy who wants to be the “real” conservative in the race, likely will try to out-Trump McMaster by channeling social issues, such as abortion, to enthrall religious conservatives.

A big problem with that strategy is the conservative Christian wing of the GOP isn’t as strong as it once was.  More important is McMaster’s relationship with President Trump.  McMaster was the first statewide official in the county to endorse Trump during the presidential campaign.  McMaster legitimately has a big chit – maybe a few – with the president.  It will be hard to out-Trump the sitting governor.

Meanwhile, two other Republicans are seeking the state’s biggest bully pulpit – neophyte Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant, who led two state agencies under Haley, and former Democratic state Sen. Yancey McGill, who became a Republican when he briefly held the lieutenant governor’s seat after Glenn McConnell resigned to become the College of Charleston president.

McGill probably didn’t expect so many people challenging a sitting governor.  So far, his campaign hasn’t got much fire.

Templeton, however, has charmed her way into the pockets of some business-oriented Republicans – the Chamber of Commerce types who find her non-experience to be a breath of fresh air, just like the non-experience of Mark Sanford and Haley were thought to be refreshing.  And we know how that worked out:  The state’s legislative and executive branches, despite being Republican, constantly clashed.

Templeton is more flash than substance.  Yes, she led two state agencies, but how hard is it to pound lecterns against unions as head of the state Labor department in the state with the lowest unionization rate in the country?  Then at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, she flubbed aid in a tuberculosis outbreak and later used the agency’s staff, at Haley’s beckoning, to try to shut down abortion clinics, a baldly overreaching political move by a supposedly impartial agency.

Then when she left the agency, Templeton negotiated a sweetheart $17,300-per-month consulting contract to keep doing work before later landing a job at the State Ports Authority.  She left after just five weeks. Months later while building a profile as an anti-corruption candidate, she said she was let go after questioning payments to a consultant now mired in an ethics probe.  But the head of the ports agency this week castigated Templeton in a no-holds-barred email by saying she lied about why she left the agency as an “election campaign ploy.”  She was not, he said, a victim nor was she fired for being a whistle-blower.

Having three – or more — challengers won’t be comfortable for McMaster, weakened after opposing a gas sales tax increase that the business community wanted to help fix dilapidated highways.  But he’s got Haley’s campaign organization – and manager – running his election effort.

Unless McMaster stubs his toe in a big way, he’ll win the GOP primary in June 2018.  Then he’ll face a Democratic challenger, if one ever emerges.

Conclusion:  McMaster will win the GOP primary and then coast into the governor’s mansion.   But remember, there’s always a twist in a gothic novel.  There’s sure to be one here.


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