Henry McMaster has been S.C. governor now for more than a year. But, on the eve of the 2018 elections, the Columbia Republican hasn’t made much of an impression on some S.C. voters.
When the Morning Consult asked South Carolinians if they approved or disapproved of McMaster’s performance as governor, one in four responded either “don’t know” or declined to give an opinion.
McMaster has been a player in S.C. politics since the 1980s, when he was appointed U.S. attorney for the state by President Ronald Reagan. He was the Palmetto State’s attorney general from 2003 to 2011, and was elected lieutenant governor in 2014. He ran for governor in 2010, losing in the GOP primary to future Gov. Nikki Haley.
But McMaster entered the state’s top job only last year, when Haley resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Now that he is running for governor, McMaster has to distinguish himself from four other Republican contenders: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, former state agency director Catherine Templeton, and Upstate businessman John Warren, who announced his candidacy on Monday.
College of Charleston professor Gibbs Knotts said it’s not unusual for large numbers of voters to be unfamiliar with a “new” figure in a high-profile position. One-in-five S.C. voters were unfamiliar with Tim Scott, for instance, when the North Charleston Republican was appointed to a U.S. Senate seat.
“People are just more likely to know the governor, follow the governor” than other offices, Knotts said. “Once advertising for the governor’s race starts, that also will get voters more familiar with him. But that also allows your opponents to say negative things about you too.”
Still, McMaster has a positive image among a majority of S.C. voters.
Fifty-two percent of South Carolinians approved of McMaster’s performance as governor in the poll, against 23 percent who disapproved.
Voters in all 50 states were polled on their governors between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The S.C. portion of the poll had a 2 percentage-point margin of error.