Petition candidate Tom Ervin dropped out of the governor’s race Tuesday, a week before Election Day, and endorsed Democrat state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
Ervin, who earlier dropped out the Republican Primary to campaign in the November election, was polling a distant third in the race despite spending at least $2.5 million of his own money.
“While I don’t agree with Sen. Sheheen on all the issues, I believe he is a man of his word,” Ervin said. “He is a man of integrity. I believe he will restore confidence and transparency to state government, and that’s what we so desperately need in the governor’s office.”
Ervin said he entered the race at the last minute because he was upset about testimony concerning the S.C. Department of Social Services mishandling cases where children died.
He set out a path as a self-proclaimed “independent Republican” – calling for an end to the Common Core education standards while backing expanding Medicaid and raising the gas tax to help pay for road repairs.
Ervin and Sheheen both have been critical of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, but Ervin’s departure from the race to support Sheheen came as a surprise. Ervin held a news conference Monday taking Haley to task for not saying at last week’s debate that she favored taking away guns from people convicted of criminal domestic violence.
“It’s what we always say about South Carolina politics, you just never know what’s going to happen,” University of South Carolina political scientist Robert Oldendick said.
Haley’s campaign said Ervin and Sheheen, both attorneys, shared the same agenda with “their liberal trial lawyer cronies.”
“They have spent millions on false and shameful attacks, and gotten nowhere with South Carolina voters,” Haley deputy campaign manager Rob Godfrey said. “It’s no surprise that two pro-Obamacare trial lawyers would officially tie the knot at the end of the race.”
Ervin’s departure leaves four active candidates for governor – Haley, Sheheen, Libertarian Steve French and United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves — although Ervin’s name will remain on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Ervin said he and his wife, Kathryn Williams, talked about and prayed Monday about whether to stay in the race. He had his campaign contact Sheheen’s camp Tuesday morning, and they hastily put together an afternoon news conference in Greenville.
“We had a frank and an honest discussion about what’s best for the people of our state,” Ervin said. “We think it’s in the best interest of our state that we suspend my campaign, my personal ambition aside, and give the people of South Carolina a clear choice.”
Ervin said he threw his support to Sheheen because they agree Haley is “ethically challenged.”
Haley has repaid the state for using the state car and plane for political purposes, and paid a small fine for not having complete details on a handful of donors.
“She has been careless with the truth,” said Ervin, who also has been critical of Haley’s child welfare agency for not fully disclosing data on caseworker loads.
Sheheen said Ervin’s endorsement was unexpected.
“(Ervin) hasn’t been afraid to take me on, either, so yeah, I was actually surprised,” Sheheen said.
Sheheen said Ervin has a powerful message for voters.
Ervin is “a Republican who has put the people of the state above his own political career, above the party, and that’s a powerful message of leadership, the kind of leadership we need,” Sheheen said.
Asked whether Ervin would have a place in a Sheheen administration, Sheheen said he and the former judge had not gotten that far in their talks, but he would consider it. “There’s a role for people in my administration, for Democrats and Republicans – as long as they’re of good will and competent, then we’ll consider everybody.”
Ervin said he has not wasted his money on his campaign.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about what’s in the best interest of the people of South Carolina,” Ervin said. “If my effort results in new, honest leadership for South Carolina, every penny was well spent.”
In a Winthrop University poll released in October, Ervin’s 3.9 percent trailed Haley’s 43.6 percent and Sheheen’s 33.6 percent. A more recent poll, commissioned by The (Charleston) Post and Courier and other media outlets, had Ervin faring better at 11 percent, but he still lagged Haley’s 51 percent and Sheheen’s 31 percent.
Some pollsters said privately Ervin was pulling almost all of his support from potential Sheheen voters.
Political scientists said Haley is still likely to win re-election even with Ervin throwing his support behind Sheheen.
“Ervin didn’t have enough traction or enough support to put Sheheen over the top,” Oldendick said.
Ervin has gathered almost $4 million in his campaign – about the same as Haley did in her 2010 bid for governor and $500,000 more than Sheheen has raised during his current campaign.
But Ervin has self-financed the bulk of his campaign.
The former state judge has borrowed $2.2 million from himself and $1.6 million from Arthur State Bank, according to data filed with the State Ethics Commission. Ervin raised just under $100,000 from outside contributors.
Ervin cannot use the $1.2 million in his campaign account to aid Sheheen’s bid to unseat Haley, Ethics Commission officials said.
Ervin, a Greenville attorney and radio station owner, was a Democrat when he served in the S.C. House in the 1980s but switched parties to run unsuccessfully for a House seat in 2005.
Ervin and his wife have donated to both parties in recent years – including $4,500 to Sheheen’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and $50,000 to the S.C. Democratic Party that same year, according to state records.
Asked how he voted in the 2010 election when he entered the race in April, Ervin said he voted for no one for governor – a decision he said he, and others who stayed out of the race, regret.
“I could not in good conscience vote for my party’s candidate,” he said. “I’m going to do better this time around.”
Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed