Greenville businessman John Warren received a major boost Thursday in his bid to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster in the June 26 Republican runoff for governor, picking up the endorsement of two former rivals.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Mount Pleasant labor attorney Catherine Templeton endorsed Warren during a Columbia news conference.
"What you are seeing right now is unification of the conservative party — the conservative part of the Republican Party," Warren said at the news conference. "We've had tough battles over the past several months in the campaign, but we are unified.
"And we all agree that Gov. McMaster is not the right person to lead our state."
McMaster won 42 percent of Tuesday's GOP primary vote, falling well short of the 50-percent-plus-one majority needed to avoid a runoff. Warren, Templeton and Bryant received a combined 56 percent, enough to topple the sitting governor if their supporters go back to the polls for the runoff and vote for Warren.
Warren, who finished second in Tuesday's primary, is hoping his former rivals' backing will strengthen his support beyond his Upstate stronghold, pushing him over the top in the June 26 runoff.
Turnout for that runoff also could be boosted by a fiercely contested Republican runoff for the Upstate's 4th District seat in the U.S. House, being vacated by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy.
McMaster campaign spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg said it wasn't surprising that Templeton and Bryant endorsed Warren.
"John Warren is wrong when he says that South Carolina is losing, and it doesn't come as much of a surprise that Gov. McMaster's challengers, who don't understand that our state is headed in the right direction, support him," Anderegg said, noting McMaster has announced more than 20,000 new jobs and nearly $6 billion in new investment in the Palmetto State since taking office.
McMaster also picked up some support Thursday.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, who had endorsed Bryant in the primary, endorsed McMaster in the GOP runoff.
"I think being an outsider (like Warren), all of these things are great. But I believe we need experience," Shealy said. "Gov. McMaster brought more than 20,000 jobs to the state in two short years and needs another term to show us what else he can do."
McMaster also picked up endorsements Thursday from legislators representing GOP-voter rich Beaufort County, including state Sen. Chip Campsen, and state Reps. Shannon Erickson, Bill Herbkersman, Weston Newton and Jeff Bradley.
But state Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, who had endorsed Templeton, shifted his support to Warren, tweeting Thursday, "We need a leader ready to guide S.C. in the 21st Century."
Both Templeton and Warren ran as "outsiders" touting their inexperience in elected politics as a virtue, and saying it's time for a new generation to lead the state. Templeton ran two state agencies in then-Gov. Nikki Haley's administration, while Warren, who served in the Marines and founded an Upstate mortgage company, never has held any government office.
“I’ve said over and over for the past two years, South Carolina needs an outsider — a businessman, a businessperson," Templeton said. "And we’ve got one in John Warren. We have to make sure the corruption in Columbia that’s costing us money stops."
"We need an outsider with business experience who can’t be bought," said Bryant, who has dogged McMaster over his relationship with Richard Quinn — his former, longtime political consultant who was indicted as part of the ongoing State House corruption probe — and the V.C. Summer nuclear plant fiasco, which has led to higher power bills for almost 3 million South Carolinians.
Templeton, who said she also was approached by McMaster for an endorsement, slammed Warren over his views on abortion and gun control in an attack ad just two weeks ago.
On Thursday, she changed her tune, saying Warren is pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.
Asked about that flip-flop, Templeton said of Warren: "He’s a Marine. He can take a punch. This is politics. This is the kind of person you want to be leading the state and fighting for you.”
Both Warren and Templeton downplayed their sometimes-nasty contest for a place in the GOP runoff.
"That’s in the past," said Warren, who once labeled Templeton a dishonest political insider.
“It was less animosity and (more) passion ... about bringing true conservative reforms as governor to our state," he said. “The one thing, you can rest assured, is that we are all unified now."
Asked about the influence of President Donald Trump — who has endorsed McMaster — on S.C. GOP voters, Warren argued his resume as a self-made businessman reads more like Trump's than McMaster's.
"Henry McMaster is not Donald Trump," Templeton said. "We want someone who’s going to go fight for us, and not worry about his allies and his 40-year career.
“I like Gov. McMaster. We all like Henry. He’s a nice guy ... But Henry is the past. And John Warren is the future."
Warren — who largely self-financed his campaign, contributing more than $3 million — could put more of his own money into the runoff. How much remains a mystery.
"John and (wife) Courtney are committed to dedicating enough resources to the campaign to be competitive," Warren campaign manager Taylor Hall said Thursday, not elaborating.
Hall also said neither Templeton nor Bryant asked Warren about joining his administration if the political upstart wins in November, when the GOP nominee will face Democrat James Smith.
"It's only the good ol' boys who trade favors," Templeton said.
Bryant, the state's outgoing lieutenant governor, also said he did not ask Warren for a job.
"They're supporting John Warren because he's the best candidate, and that's the only reason," Hall said.
McMaster and Warren will debate Wednesday at the Newberry Opera House. The 7 p.m. debate is being sponsored by SC ETV and the Charleston Post and Courier.