Right now, there is only one candidate in the race to be South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor. But after Gov. Henry McMaster chose Upstate businesswoman Pamela Evette as his running mate Tuesday, the consensus seems to be that many of the 2018 candidates for South Carolina’s No. 2 post will be women.
“My recommendation is to look for balance,” said Jaime Harrison, former chair of the S.C. Democratic Party. Republicans should “look to balance with a woman,” he advised. “And, on our side, I’d look to balance with an African-American woman.”
“This is new territory in South Carolina,” College of Charleston professor Gibbs Knotts said of the 2018 race, the first in which candidates for governor can choose their own running mates.
“If you look at the presidential tickets, you need geographic balance; if you’re an insider like McMaster, you want to go with an outsider, and you want to reach across the racial or gender divide.”
Of the six candidates who have announced they are running for governor, five are white men – McMaster; Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson; Charleston businessman and Democrat Phil Noble; former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, a Democrat turned Republican; and state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.
‘My instinct ... to choose a woman’
Without mentioning any names, Noble said he is considering adding a woman to his bid for the Democratic nomination, preferably not someone currently serving in the S.C. Legislature or associated with – as he put it – the “disease of corruption emanating from it.”
“I don’t want to say definitely I won’t choose someone from the State House. There are some good and decent people in the State House,” Noble said. “But my instinct, from the beginning, has been to choose a non-State House woman.”
Democratic front-runner Smith is going through “a deliberative process that will consider a variety of people” for lieutenant governor, his campaign said. But Smith doesn’t have a timeline for making his own lieutenant governor announcement. Instead, he is focusing on other issues facing South Carolina.
“James will pick a running mate we can be proud of who will work with all South Carolinians to accomplish those shared goals,” said campaign manager Isaiah Nelson.
Insiders point to Richland County state Sen. Mia McLeod and Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine as potentially able to fill that role. And, while Columbia attorney Marguerite Willis is considering her own bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, some think she would make a good candidate for lieutenant governor as well.
However, all three – like Smith – are from the Midlands, meaning none would add geographic diversity to his ticket.
Lancaster state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell also is considered an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party, as is Greenville City Councilwoman Jil Littlejohn.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Columbia consultant Amanda Loveday. “We’ve had a female at the very top, but whether it’s Henry, (GOP gubernatorial candidate) Catherine Templeton or James, I think we’ll see a female on the ticket.”
‘A woman brings a lot to the table’
That woman could be from Lexington County.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, says she has discussed running-mate options with her “very good friend” Bryant, a dark-horse candidate for the GOP nomination.
Does that mean Shealy might end up as the No. 2 on Bryant’s ticket?
The two haven’t gotten into specifics, Shealy said.
“I love serving the people in my Senate district,” she added. “That would be hard to give up.”
But Shealy agrees a female candidate would bring a lot to any campaign.
“Especially in this climate, it’s probably a good idea,” Shealy said. “I’m not just saying that because I’m a woman. I think a woman brings a lot to the table.”
Not everyone agrees a woman on the ticket will be a necessity.
“South Carolina has the lowest number of elected females in the country,” said Clemson University professor David Woodard, a sometimes GOP consultant. “Gender is just less important here than it is in other places.”
Instead, Woodard thinks bridging the state’s geographical divides is more important.
“So Byrant definitely wants somebody from the Lowcountry,” Woodard said. “Templeton wants somebody from the Upstate.”
But in the end, Woodard said, “To quote Richard Nixon, ‘Selecting a vice president can’t help you. It can only hurt you.’ ”
South Carolina has had a female lieutenant governor only once before, Democrat Nancy Stevenson from 1979 to 1983. And, of course, the state has had only one female governor, Republican Nikki Haley from 2011 to 2017.