James Smith celebrates with supporters after winning SC Democratic primary for governor
An unlikely combination of well-connected Greenville County residents, most of whom have supported Republican candidates, will hold a fundraiser this month for state Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Three of the hosts for the Sept. 17 event in downtown Greenville — political consultant Tim Brett, former South Carolina Chamber of Commerce head Howard Hunter and former Greenville Health System board chairman Jim Morton — have made financial contributions to Republicans this year. Democrat Diane Smock, a former county probate judge who also served on the Greenville City Council, also is listed as a host for Smith’s fundraiser.
“The people on this list are community leaders in the Upstate, and that is going to send a powerful message,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson.
Robertson said Smith’s opponent, Gov. Henry McMaster, has shown signs of weakness in the Upstate. Although McMaster won the GOP primary runoff on June 26, he received only 36 percent of the votes in Anderson, Greenville, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties. First-time candidate John Warren, a Greenville businessman, won each of those counties in the runoff.
Greenville County Republican Party Chairman Nate Leupp and McMaster’s campaign spokeswoman said the fundraiser for Smith is no cause for concern.
“God bless each one of these folks, but it is going to take a lot more than that for Smith to win the Upstate,” Leupp said.
Leupp said any lingering ill will from the “brutal” GOP primary will heal by the time voters head to the polls for the Nov. 6 general election. He predicted that McMaster, who replaced former Gov. Nikki Haley last year when she became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will win the Upstate and be elected to a full four-year term.
The Republican primary “is where the race for governor started and that is where the race for governor ended,” Leupp said.
The Upstate is seen as a GOP stronghold, a perception backed by voter-turnout numbers in the June 12 primary for governor. A total of about 138,000 Republicans cast ballots in the primary throughout the region’s 10 counties compared to fewer than 49,000 Democrats.
“James Smith is the anti-religious liberty, abortion-on-demand, high-tax candidate in this race, which is antithetical to everything Upstate voters stand for,” said McMaster’s spokeswoman, Caroline Anderegg. “Not only are the numbers not there for him, but voters will turn out in droves to keep this socialist wannabe out of the governor’s mansion.”
Why Upstate hosts are backing Smith
Brett said Smith is a highly regarded politician who appeals to both Democrats and Republicans. Smith has served two decades in the state House of Representatives and also spent a year on combat duty in Afghanistan for the South Carolina National Guard.
“I have always admired James Smith,” said Brett, an ex-GOP legislator who worked for former Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell. More recently Brett was a campaign consultant for Stephen Brown, a past Greenville County Republican Party chairman who finished sixth in the crowded GOP primary for South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.
Brett’s public relations firm contributed $3,500 to McMaster in April.
Howard, a former Democratic state legislator who also served as chairman of the Greenville Technical College Foundation, said he believes that Smith has a better plan than McMaster for improving the state’s education system.
Howard made a $500 contribution to state Sen. William Timmons in June. Timmons won the District 4 GOP primary.
Smock said she believes that Smith is “running for all South Carolinians.”
Morton, a former executive for Michelin and Nissan, could not be reached for comment. He donated $2,500 to state Rep. Dan Hamilton in the District 4 primary. He gave an equal amount to Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen when he ran for governor in 2014.
Smith’s spokesman, Brad Warthen, said his campaign is “very gratified to have these folks supporting us.”
“We’re working hard in the Upstate,” Warthen said.
People attending the fundraiser can be listed as a “platinum” host for $3,500, a “gold” host for $2,000, a “silver” host for $1,000 and a “bronze” host for $500, according to an email about the event obtained by The Greenville News and Independent Mail. General tickets are priced at $100 and $250 per person.