In a sure sign Andre Bauer is running for governor, the two-term, Republican lieutenant governor Thursday opened a campaign bank account and filed paperwork with the State Ethics Commission.
"He's one of the most underestimated politicians in South Carolina, and he's one of the most likable," said former S.C. GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who has not endorsed a candidate. "This is a guy who's always fought the odds. He's a scrapper.
"I'd hate to run against him."
Campaign consultant, Chris LaCivita said Bauer, who recently moved his legal residence to Greenville, will make a formal announcement soon.
Bauer, who oversees the S.C. Office on Aging as lieutenant governor, raised more than $290,000 in the third quarter.
Known for constituent services, Bauer has more than $825,000 on hand, including money saved from previous campaigns. Bauer now will ask those donors for permission to spend that money on his bid for the GOP's gubernatorial nomination.
"We're pretty confidant that we should be able to transfer 99.9 percent of it," LaCivita said. "We're very confidant that Andre can compete financially."
Bauer also has nearly $17,000 in his new gubernatorial account, according to filings with the State Ethics Commission.
Two other GOP candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Attorney General Henry McMaster, have raised or transferred from previous campaign accounts more than $1 million each for their bids.
Running for governor wasn't Bauer's first choice.
In late August, Bauer, 40, offered embattled S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford a deal: If Sanford would resign, Bauer would finish out the remainder of Sanford's second term and not run for governor in 2010.
Sanford, under scrutiny since admitting to a secret June trip to visit his Argentine lover and the subject of an ongoing State Ethics Commission investigation into his use of state and campaign resources, refused the deal.
"It's disappointing from the sense that there was an opportunity to take politics completely out of the discussion and put the South Carolina people first," LaCivita said of Sanford's refusal. "It was an honest and sincere offer from the lieutenant governor, saying, 'If you all are worried it'll give me a leg up as governor, I wont' run for governor.'"
Bauer, who previously has served in the state House and Senate, will run on a platform of lowering taxes, streamlining government and taking a hands-on approach to bringing jobs to South Carolina, according to his campaign.
It remains to be seen whether voters will look past Bauer's personal history, including well-publicized speeding tickets.
Some lawmakers say the incidents are proof Bauer is too immature.
Bauer also has been dogged by questions about his sexuality. Earlier this year, he volunteered to The State he was not gay.
"Campaigns will use it against him," Dawson predicted. "Some people might not take him seriously. But last I checked, he's won 10 elections (including primaries)."
Bauer faces four rivals in the GOP's June primary: Barrett, state Sen. Larry Grooms of Berkeley County, state Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington County and McMaster.