Retired Charleston developer Pat McKinney, who entered the race first and outraised his opponents by a wide margin, surprised S.C. political experts and his foes by ending his bid for S.C. lieutenant governor on Thursday, his campaign manager said.
McKinney and Columbia businessman Mike Campbell were headed to an automatic recount Friday for the second GOP runoff spot against former state Attorney General Henry McMaster. Despite outspending Campbell by nearly $800,000, McKinney held a slim 1,250-vote lead after the primary Tuesday – a margin of less than 1 percentage point that triggers a recount.
Campbell, son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell, now will face McMaster in the June 24 runoff.
The lead McMaster held after the primary – 20 percentage points – gives him a great chance of winning the runoff, said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan, who added McKinney’s departure came as a shock. Campbell “will have to get all his supporters out” to have any chance at an upset, Buchanan said.
McKinney, a political newcomer before the race, has no plans to endorse another candidate, said Taylor Hall, his campaign manager and son-in-law. Ray Moore, who finished fourth in the primary, endorsed McMaster on Thursday.
McKinney's decision to leave the race came from personal, not political reasons, Hall said. He is tired after losing his father two months ago and his father-in-law last month, Hall said. McKinney, 64, has been campaigning officially since October, though he started the groundwork in the summer.
"He's looking forward to becoming a full-time husband, father and grandfather again," Hall said.
McKinney's departure less than two days after polls closed Tuesday was unexpected.
His campaign vowed Wednesday to keep running against McMaster, a state Republican stalwart who received 44 percent of the vote on Tuesday. McKinney sent a defiant email to supporters.
“I am proud to offer a clear contrast with my opponent (McMaster): I am a career businessman, who spent my life building a business, raising my family and serving my community,” McKinney wrote. “My opponent has spent decades in politics and has run for statewide office 5 times. It is time for new leadership.”
Six hours before dropping out, McKinney's campaign sent a news release reminding reporters of an endorsement he received from Erick Erickson, founder of the national conservative website Redstate.com.
McKinney decided Thursday afternoon to exit the race, Hall said. He called supporters, who were disappointed, he said. McKinney also called Gov. Nikki Haley, whom he consulted before running for the office last year.
“She wished him the best and he wished her the best,” Hall said. McKinney was not available for comment.
Haley did not ask McKinney to leave the runoff that likely would have pitted a pair of her close allies, a spokesman for the governor's campaign said.
“Pat and Pam (his wife) have been a wonderful part of our family's life since we first met them back in 2009,” Haley said in a statement released through her campaign. “Long before this campaign, Pat has given so much to South Carolina – in business, in service, and as a family man – and I’m proud to call him a friend.”
The S.C. Republican Party also said it did not ask McKinney to drop out.
McKinney gathered more than two times the amount of campaign contributions than his three opponents combined – though $245,000 of the $832,000 he raised came from a loan.
Despite being close to Haley and spending years in development of Kiawah Island, McKinney had trouble overcoming being a political unknown in the state. Campbell raised just $41,000 less and nearly tied McKinney in the primary with 24 percent of the vote.
Like McMaster, Campbell joined the race in March during the candidate filing period. McMaster was able to use his years of connections built leading the state Republican party to raise more $225,000 to mount a competitive campaign against McKinney.
The pair both could claim close ties to the governor. McKinney and McMaster were part of Haley’s gubernatorial transition team, and the governor appointed them to the state Ports Authority board. McKinney also serves on her foundation's board.
McMaster said he was surprised that McKinney left the campaign. He added that McKinney was a good man running an excellent race: “I consider him a friend.”
Campbell's campaign had no comment Thursday.