Gov. Nikki Haley’s 14-point re-election victory gives her a mandate but how it will translate in the Legislature is still an open question, lawmakers and political experts say.
The GOP governor, who beat Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen in 2010 by 4.5 points, almost tripled that margin Tuesday night with a 55.9 percent to 41.3 percent win in a rematch with Sheheen, according to unofficial returns posted by the State Election Commission.
Pundits had predicted a Haley victory and the latest Winthrop Poll showed a 10-point lead for the governor. But the margin surprised many and most lawmakers and political experts interviewed by The Greenville News said the governor now has a mandate.
“The governor and the constitutional officers certainly earned a mandate yesterday,” said Sen. John Courson, a Columbia Republican and former Senate president pro tempore. “We’ve had in the Senate a very pleasant relationship with her the past two years and I think that will continue.”
Acting House Speaker Jay Lucas said he doesn’t think the vote gives Haley a mandate but will have an impact on legislation, especially ethics reform.
“I think the vote the governor got Tuesday night is important because she can play a huge role with regard to getting the measures we pass through the Senate,” he said.
“I see the vote more significant in that area, helping us with the Senate to get these ethics reform measures passed.”
Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Haley’s victory was a mandate.
“It was certainly an affirmation on the emphasis she has placed on job creation and economic development as well as ethics reform,” he said.
“I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road. But she has a great platform now to really help move the state forward.”
He said he hopes her mandate will help push ethics reform legislation across the finish line next year.
Democratic Sen. Glenn Reese of Inman agreed Haley won a mandate “but not necessarily working with the Legislature.”
“The Senate will work with her,” he said. “But it needs to be good stuff.”
Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat, said he believes road funding and ethics reform will be the immediate priorities of lawmakers and the governor next year and he hopes Haley and legislators will find common ground.
“Sometimes we work together well, sometimes not so well,” he said. “I’m hopeful at the end of the day, everyone will put politics and the election behind them and come together and do what’s best for South Carolina. And I believe that will happen.”
David Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor, said he believes voters gave Haley a mandate.
“I think a second-term governor has a mandate when they win as big as she did and I think the legislators have to listen to her,” he said.
“She has done what you would expect a Republican to do in South Carolina. I think she does have a mandate. We’ll have to see how she uses it.”
Danielle Vinson, a Furman University political science professor, said Haley “can legitimately claim” a mandate.
“Even people who were not thrilled with her didn’t vote against her, at least not in large numbers,” she said.
But Vinson said she doesn’t think that mandate means she will have any easier time with the Legislature.
“They didn’t suffer any problems from combating her before,” she said.
“I think they’ll, for the most part, continue to vote with their constituencies and pick fights with her when they think they need to. But I don’t think they really suffered from picking fights with her in the past so if she does things they don’t like they will continue to squabble. We haven’t really punished legislators for fighting with governors in the past two administrations.”
Bruce Ransom, a Clemson political science professor, said he thinks Haley’s margin gives her “leverage” with lawmakers.
“We can quibble about whether it’s a landslide but it’s a significant victory,” he said. “It should give her some leverage if she needs it. It should give her some credibility if she needs it to deal with the Legislature because this wasn’t close at all.”
Ransom said he thinks the margin was due in part to the lack of any damage done by her opponents, including Greenville former judge Tom Ervin, despite problems at some of her cabinet agencies, including the state Department of Revenue and the state Department of Social Services.
“Clearly you can say in the campaign Ervin and Sheheen didn’t lay a hand on her,” he said. “I mean, they didn’t. So she had a clear-cut victory and improved significantly on her margin four years ago.”
Woodard said he thinks Haley’s victory and final numbers are what would be expected in a red state.
If there is no scandal, he said, he would expect a GOP governor to collect 55 percent of the vote and Democrats to collect 45 percent.
“My point is that she underperformed in 2010 and performed as you would expect a Republican to do in a statewide race, in 2014,” he said.
Vinson said Haley was helped by a lack of a smart campaign by Democrats.
She said she believes Democrats were worried about turning off moderate voters so they avoided doing things that could have energized their base, particularly African-American voters. She said, for instance, that she was puzzled about the lack of air play by the campaign on black radio stations.
“That’s a no-brainer,” she said. “From that perspective, it just wasn’t a smart campaign.”
Haley signaled Tuesday night that she will continue to focus on jobs and economic development, education and ethics reform.
The governor has said she will propose a road-funding plan to the Legislature in January.