COLUMBIA — The four Republicans vying to win the nomination for S.C. lieutenant governor have bigger designs for the second-ranking office at the State House.
No, they will not discuss using the job to run for governor in 2018. But they do talk of gubernatorial-like priorities for the office, ranging from education to ethics to economic development. And while they talk about improvements to the Office on Aging – part of the lieutenant governor’s office – they all speak of working closely with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
They four are considering these more executive roles for the role of lieutenant governor because the job is part time and, as Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson put it: “Most people don’t know what the lieutenant governor does.”
In addition to overseeing the state Office on Aging, with its 41 employees and a $38 million-a-year budget, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate. The job pays $46,565 a year.
The GOP race for the state’s No. 2 job features a pair of last-minute challengers with high name recognition – Henry McMaster, a former S.C. attorney general, and Mike Campbell, son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell.
The race also has two political newcomers: retired Charleston developer Pat McKinney, who has been in the race since last fall and raised the most money, and Columbia pastor Ray Moore.
The candidates have played nice so far. They cite their varying levels of experience in government and business in differentiating themselves from their opponents, but they have not traded barbs. If elected, they also say they will work full time at the job.
Still, voters might want to consider which candidate could best fit in the seat of the state’s chief executive.
Chatter is growing about Haley’s national prospects in 2016, whether a run for the White House or as a GOP vice presidential pick. If another Republican wins the presidency in 2016, Haley also could be a candidate for a Cabinet post or ambassador’s job.
But all four GOP candidates said they are focusing on their four-year term as lieutenant governor, not on the possibility of sliding across the State House’s first-floor lobby to the governor’s office.
A S.C. lieutenant governor has not had to become governor in the middle of a term since 1965. Still, for anyone with gubernatorial aspirations, Furman’s Vinson said, “It’s not a bad a place to show you have experience.”
Support for Haley
The winner of the June 10 GOP primary will face Democrat Bakari Sellers, a state representative from Denmark.
This year’s race for lieutenant governor also is the last time that S.C. voters will cast ballots for the state’s second-ranking politician alone. Two years ago, voters approved a change to the state Constitution that will pair the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket – like the president and vice president – starting in 2018.
The seat is open after Republican Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell of Charleston chose not to run. McConnell, a state Senate leader who was elevated to lieutenant governor in 2012 after Ken Ard’s resignation, becomes president of the College of Charleston on July 1.
If one of the Republicans wins in November, Haley will get a lieutenant governor who says he is looking forward to working with her if she is re-elected.
All four GOP candidates say they are willing to coordinate with governor. Three of them – Campbell, McKinney and McMaster – also tout their ties to the Lexington Republican.
McKinney and McMaster supported Haley in her 2010 gubernatorial campaign and were appointed by the governor to the board of directors of the State Ports Authority. Campbell says he has supported Haley even longer – since her first run for the S.C. House in 2004. He also spoke at Haley’s ceremonial bill signing of a government restructuring act.
But Vinson does not think the Haley factor will sway voters to choose one candidate over another.
“Most voters going to polls are Haley supporters anyway,” she said.
McKinney might not have the name recognition of Campbell or McMaster, but he said his years in real estate sales and a stint on the Furman University board of trustees have put him in touch with a large number of voters and supporters.
The three other GOP candidates joined the race in February and March. Their initial campaign contribution disclosure reports, which are through March 31, included little fundraising.
McKinney, 64, has been in the race since last fall, using his extended time in the contest and contacts to raise a race-high $723,000, including a $245,000 loan that he made to his campaign. Powered by that money, McKinney was the first candidate to air television commercials, starting an ad run last week.
“Primaries are all about voter turnout,” Vinson said. “Can he shake enough hands, work with new media and get his supporters out? Money can help.”
McKinney says he is unfazed at facing Campbell and McMaster, two politicians with names known statewide. He noted that when he entered the campaign last year, he was prepared to face McConnell, an incumbent and sometimes Haley antagonist.
Working in real estate prepared him for a life in politics, McKinney added. “Competition is something I faced all my life and makes you better.”
McKinney said he hopes the 2018 gubernatorial candidates, who will get to name a lieutenant governor-running mate, will look back at his stint in the job and say they want a running mate like he hopes to be with Haley.
McKinney said he plans to help with small business economic development. He said his business background could aid the Office on Aging, noting he has worked with a free medical clinic on Johns Island.
“As businessman, you look at issues and try to figure out solutions that are feasible because if they are not feasible, you go out of business,” McKinney said.
McMaster thinks he has an edge in the race because he is the only candidate to have won statewide office – attorney general – and have a record of accomplishments in public service.
McMaster was elected attorney general in 2002 and 2006, starting several programs that tackled, among other things, domestic violence and Internet crimes. Nonetheless, some political observers were surprised when McMaster said he would run for lieutenant governor, four years after losing the GOP nomination for governor to Haley. (McMaster subsequently endorsed Haley in the GOP runoff.)
McMaster has run for lieutenant governor before, losing to Democrat Nick Theodore in 1990.
“It’s the most under-utilized office in state government,” McMaster said of the lieutenant governor’s office.
Asked his priorities if elected, McMaster mentioned first continuing ethics reform efforts. McMaster co-chaired an ethics reform task force, named by Haley, and the issue continues to be debated in the Legislature.
He also brought up economic development, emphasizing easing regulations on small businesses.
McMaster, 66, wants to start a unit with the state attorney general’s office to prosecute crimes against seniors and relieve taxes on seniors.
In eight years each as attorney general and S.C. Republican Party chairman, McMaster said he built relationships with legislators and State House policymakers that he can capitalize on as lieutenant governor. “This is not the time to learn on the job,” he said.
Campbell said he gained experience in state government from his late father, Carroll Campbell, the Republican governor who helped lure BMW to open a plant in Greer in the 1990s.
Campbell, 45, calls himself an outsider with the experience of an insider.
“I have infinite knowledge of how this office works,” he said.
Campbell has run for lieutenant governor before, winning the most votes in the GOP primary in 2008. But Campbell lost in the GOP runoff to incumbent Andre Bauer.
Campbell said his decision to run again was personal, so he could emphasize work on Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed his father’s life. He said he wants to update a report on the scope of Alzheimer’s care in the state and find more help for caregivers.
“I saw the toll this took on my mom,” he said.
Campbell also thinks he could help add resources to the Office on Aging from businesses.
Campbell, who operates a mechanical tool business and a small-business consulting firm, said his entrepreneurial experience could help him assist the governor in nurturing small businesses.
“I know how hard it is to make payroll,” he said.
Moore thinks he has a chance to woo voters who are not interested in his more mainstream Republican competitors.
Moore, 70, said he is interested in backing U.S. currency with gold and silver, and ending public schools and sending children to private schools.
“You don’t fix socialism. You abandon it,” he said of public schools. “I have natural appeal to a good, strong wing of a party if they can find me in time.”
Moore took a leave from his Christian ministry to run for office.
Moore said he would follow Lt. Gov. McConnell’s lead in bolstering the Office on Aging, but the 40-year pastor added he plans to enlist churches to help with the state’s growing aging population.
“I could encourage ... pastors to teach how to care for their own aging populations as part of our Christian responsibilities,” he said.
Moore has no previous experience with Haley. But, he added, “I’d be at her disposal.”