The South Carolina 2018 governor’s race was supposed to be wide open, with the departure of popular Republican Nikki Haley, term-limited from seeking a third run.
Now, with Haley’s potential early departure pending her confirmation as U.N. ambassador, a space has been created for current Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster – who will step in if Haley’s confirmed – to run as an incumbent next year.
The Democratic side remains clear, with a few names tossed around but no candidate commitments. But with the state’s politics trending more and more conservative over the past decade or more, attention is focused on the potential pool of candidates who will vie for the Republican nomination.
McMaster is getting a lot of attention, but will he get some GOP company on primary ballots?
McMaster, 69, is a veteran of politics, both as a candidate but also a party leader helping shape the process. Serving as U.S. Attorney under President Ronald Reagan, McMaster also led South Carolina’s GOP and was the state’s attorney general for eight years.
He sought the state’s office in 2010, when he finished third in a four-way Republican primary ultimately won by Haley. He backed Haley and led her transition efforts, as well as an ethics committee she created to make reform recommendations.
Haley was re-elected in 2014, and McMaster was elected separately as lieutenant governor. Starting in 2018, governor and lieutenant governor will be elected on the same ticket, so McMaster could have the opportunity to pick his No. 2.
A member of South Carolina’s GOP establishment, McMaster went outside those boundaries early last year when he became the nation’s first statewide officeholder to back Donald Trump for president. The move stunned political observers, but McMaster’s support never wavered, despite Democrats’ calls to withdraw it.
The move has now seemingly paid off, with Trump’s nomination of Haley clearing McMaster’s pathway to the governor’s office, a post he’s always wanted.
He’s said little so far about what he'll do as governor, but McMaster has told The Associated Press in several interviews since Trump’s election he'll do whatever he can to support the new president on the state’s behalf.
Although she’s never sought elected office, Catherine Templeton is no stranger to politics. The labor lawyer and union-fighting specialist was mentioned as a possible candidate for U.S. labor secretary after she was summoned to Trump Tower for a meeting with the president-elect.
Templeton has earned a reputation in South Carolina for having a no-nonsense approach to getting things done. She ran the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation early in Haley’s first term, cutting out redundancies and streamlining the agency. Haley played up Templeton’s union-fighting background and ability to keep unions out of the new Boeing Inc. assembly plant in North Charleston. After a lawsuit over comments Haley made about the duo’s ability to “fight the unions” at Boeing, the International Association of Machinists ultimately canceled a vote to certify the union.
Templeton served Haley a second time, directing South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, the state’s largest agency. As Ebola concerns swirled in late 2014, Templeton said her agency needed the ability to send simultaneous health alerts to hospitals on the front lines of identifying a potential outbreak. The director herself even tested the state’s abilities, showing up at two Charleston hospitals and said she was suffering from the flu, in an attempt to see if hospitals were really ready to tackle identifying an unknown outbreak.
Templeton has said she’s exploring a gubernatorial bid but has made no official announcement.
As a solicitor in the 1990s, Tommy Pope launched to nationwide fame for his case against Susan Smith, the Union County mother who killed her two sons by rolling her car into a lake. Pope pursued the death penalty against Smith, who was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.
Voters picked Pope to represent Rock Hill in the state House in 2010 and now, recently re-elected for a fourth term, he serves as House speaker pro tem. During last year’s legislative session, Pope was chief sponsor of an ultimately successful ethics bill pushed by Haley.
Pope was the first Republican to officially say he’d run for governor after Haley’s time was up, announcing in 2014 he’d make a run for the state’s top slot. Pope’s biggest challenge, if he sticks with the bid, will be to boost his name recognition across the state.
Many other Republicans have already been mentioned as potential 2018 gubernatorial hopefuls, including Attorney General Alan Wilson and state Sen. Tom Davis, a libertarian-leaning state senator recently elected to a third term representing some of South Carolina’s coastal areas.
Yancey McGill, who briefly served as lieutenant governor, has previously said he'll run next year. Tim Scott, a widely popular black Republican who just won his first full term in the U.S. Senate, recently said he hasn’t ruled out a bid. U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney had been considered a potential candidate until his recent nomination to serve as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget.
As for the Democrats, the only apparent certainty is that two-time nominee Vincent Sheheen won’t be making a third gubernatorial bid. State lawmakers Brad Hutto and James Smith are often mentioned as potential candidates, although neither has committed to running.