The real battle between the two Republicans vying Tuesday for the GOP’s runoff nomination for S.C. lieutenant governor is to persuade voters to return to the polls, political observers say.
South Carolinians cast slightly more than 300,000 ballots in the June 10 GOP primary. About two-thirds of those votes went to the runoff opponents, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster and Columbia businessman Mike Campbell.
“Tuesday is about turnout,” S.C. GOP political strategist Walter Whetsell said. “It’s a good ol’ fashioned grassroots drill on who can get their supporters to vote in late June.”
Both candidates are hoping for a little mojo from possible 2016 presidential hopefuls.
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Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee campaigned for Campbell Saturday. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is scheduled to stump for McMaster statewide on Monday.
McMaster, a state GOP stalwart who has been the S.C. party chairman, heads into the runoff with momentum.
He received 59,000 more votes than Campbell, the son of the late Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell, for a 20 percentage-point advantage on June 10. McMaster also won 37 of 46 counties in the primary, including all the major metropolitan areas. Campbell was the top vote-getter in six rural counties.
But Campbell campaign manager Hogan Gidley said that as far as he is concerned, the scoreboard has been reset for the part-time post, which oversees the state Office on Aging and presides over the state Senate. “It’s 0-0,” he said.
Campbell knows a little about where McMaster sits.
In 2006, Campbell was the top vote-getter in the GOP race for lieutenant governor by more than 21,000 ballots over incumbent Andre Bauer.
But Campbell lost the runoff by 4,000 votes as turnout dropped 35 percent. Bauer was able to get more of his supporters back to the polls for the runoff, two weeks after the primary. Meanwhile, Campbell’s vote totals dropped by nearly a third between the primary and runoff.
McMaster said he’s not taking anything for granted. “It’s not over.”
What’s the job?
The runoff, like the primary, has generated few harsh words among candidates. Instead, Campbell and McMaster are setting up slightly differing narratives in their tilt to meet Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers in November.
Campbell is targeting senior centers in campaign stops, including some he visited during a 46-county swing before the primary.
“Mike is the only candidate focusing on aging and not talking about all the other things,” Gidley said. “He has accomplishments in the field. He worked on Alzheimer’s issues because of his dad,” who died in 2005 after suffering from the disease.
While McMaster said he has a plan to work with seniors — to lower their taxes and stop scams against them — he also is focusing on broader ambitions, calling the lieutenant governor’s office underutilized.
He talks about being a partner for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, including aiding her economic-development efforts and ethics reform work. Last week, McMaster debuted a television TV featuring video clips and pictures of him with Haley, who appointed him to the State Port Authority.
McMaster says overseeing the Office on Aging is not the only job a lieutenant governor can do. The state’s No. 2 post has the same jurisdiction as the governor, he says, with “responsibilities from A to Z.”
“She can’t be everywhere and could use a a strong partner,” McMaster said of Haley, who is seeking re-election this year. “I would be available, and I would know what to do.”
Campbell is not neglecting ties to the governor.
He has touted his support for Haley, since she first ran for the State House in 2004. He also highlights their common support for restructuring state government to shrink its size, a key issue for his father when he was governor.
“I’ll continue working with Gov. Haley on the issues facing our state,” Campbell said in a television ad released Friday.
Who might have an edge
The 2014 race is last time the lieutenant governor will run alone in South Carolina. Starting in 2018, the lieutenant governor will run on the same ticket as the governor.
The job is open because Republican Glenn McConnell of Charleston is becoming president of the College of Charleston next month. McConnell resigned last week, leaving former state Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, to serve as lieutenant governor until January.
McMaster appears to have the edge to gain the historic spot, experts say.
University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins notes that McMaster built a large lead in the primary and is familiar to voters. McMaster, a former U.S. attorney for South Carolina who also has run for the U.S. Senate, ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 election for governor.
“Campbell has not given, beyond you know his last name, a reason to vote for him,” Tompkins said.
Whetsell agreed McMaster has a better chance of success Tuesday.
“His task is not to change minds (of voters). His task is getting his base out,” Whetsell said. “Campbell has to change minds.”
Whetsell is closely familiar with the contest.
He was a campaign strategist for Pat McKinney, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor who finished just ahead of Campbell in the June 10 primary.
But McKinney, the race’s biggest fundraiser, dropped out of the runoff, saying that he was drained after the campaign and the recent deaths of his father and father-in-law. The political newcomer won three counties in the primary, including York.
McKinney declined to endorse a runoff candidate. But Campbell says he should appeal to many of the 73,000 voters who cast ballots in the primary for the retired Charleston developer.
“I have been around government, but they like that I’m a small businessman with an outsider’s perspective,” Campbell said.
McMaster, meanwhile, has boasted of receiving the support of Columbia pastor Ray Moore, who finished last in the four-way primary, as well as several key McKinney backers.
One of those former McKinney supporters, former 1st District U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett, called McMaster “the most qualified candidate to run for lieutenant governor in recent history. He is the only candidate with the stature, experience and judgment necessary to step in right away for the governor should the need arise.”
Campbell and his supporters, of course, disagree.