When President Donald Trump visited South Carolina to stump for Gov. McMaster at a Greenville fundraiser last fall, Trump supporter Kandee Parker was on the fence about McMaster.
"He’s (McMaster) a good ol' boy, and Trump owes McMaster because he campaigned for Trump in the state" leading up to the 2016 S.C. presidential primary, said Parker, an Isle of Palms resident. "Trump owed him. But I don’t, and I was waiting to see who all the candidates were."
Today, Parker is "solidly" behind McMaster. But, she adds, that is "not because of Trump."
President Trump will return to South Carolina Monday, just hours before polls open Tuesday in the state's runoff for the GOP nomination for governor. The president will be rallying support for McMaster's campaign against runoff opponent John Warren, a political newcomer and Greenville businessman.
Parker says she wants to "lean a little bit closer" to the president — who has been under criticism recently for his administration's controversial "zero tolerance" immigration policy that led to the separation of children from their families at the border. Backing McMaster shows "we support his (the president's) agenda," she says. But, she adds, her support for McMastert hinges on his government experience, likability and relationships with state lawmakers.
"McMaster comes off as more amicable, and comes across as someone who can negotiate and get things through the Legislature," Parker said. "The other guy? I just don’t think he has the experience and the personality. McMaster comes across as personable."
Likewise, other Trump supporters across the state say the president's rally Monday in West Columbia will not impact their voting decision at the ballot box. Their minds already are made up. But they hope Trump's presence will energize, solidify and motivate supporters across the state to go to the polls Tuesday.
Supporters also say they hope Trump will reassure South Carolinians that the White House has their back as the state grapples with repairing its crumbling infrastructure, combats the opioid epidemic, protects the coastline from offshore drilling and tries to dispose of nuclear waste.
Already, Trump has played a central role in the GOP primary, including Wednesday's final debate.
During that debate, Warren said he found it "ironic" that McMaster talked about the importance of experience in politics but also bragged so much about his endorsement by Trump, who had no experience in government before becoming president.
Warren, a Marine veteran who started his own successful Upstate real estate lending business, argued his resume as a self-made businessman reads more like Trump's than McMaster's does.
McMaster countered that Trump had worked around politics for years — if not in it — as a businessman. He also slapped at Warren, saying that for all his business success, he was no Trump.
"Warren has gotten some momentum ... but (I) will vote for McMaster, not because of Trump, but the experience thing," said Brian Duncan, a Trump supporter from Lexington County.
While comparisons can be made between Trump's and Warren's business backgrounds, Trump already had built political connections on Capitol Hill when he entered politics, Duncan said.
"He doesn’t have to walk to both ends of Congress to introduce himself," Duncan said of Trump. "Trump came in with name recognition, and no one knows who Warren is.
"I’m a 20-year military veteran and own a small business," installing security cameras, Duncan said. "That doesn’t qualify me for everything. With the momentum we have in our state right now" — with new jobs, investment and low unemployment — "I wouldn’t want any delays in the economy. I don’t want to start over. I want to continue the momentum."
And, Duncan added, "It doesn’t hurt if South Carolina needs something to pick up the phone and call a friend (in the White House)."
As for Trump, Duncan hopes the president will spend less time at Monday's rally attacking his critics and the press. Instead, Duncan would like to see Trump focus more on how he plans to build on his steps on immigration enforcement, trade and a denuclearized Korean peninsula, where the Lexington resident says he sees positive moves by the administration.
"I want to hear him talk more about … keeping a good border, not sitting in the backseat to China and these other countries we’ve run up a huge trade deficit with," Duncan said. "Talk about North Korea and denuclearizing the peninsula. Going from (calling North Korea's Kim Jong Un) 'Rocket Man' a few weeks earlier to shaking hands in Singapore is major."
State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said he supports the president's policy objectives but his visit and endorsement of McMaster will not sway him from backing Warren.
"The president's support of Henry McMaster is a personal one and not necessarily related to any policy objective, and is a favor to Henry for supporting Trump early on," Caskey said. "It doesn’t have any impact at all in my view. The decision here for voters is: What’s best for South Carolina and its future?"
In McMaster, Caskey said he sees failed leadership from a career politician and Columbia insider.
"I’m glad the president is going to be here to remind everyone that we have an election on Tuesday," Caskey said. But McMaster, he said, "wants to drive the ship but doesn’t tell us where he wants to go."
Trump supporter Jane Page Thompson of Aiken said she is backing McMaster "100 percent."
"I know, not hope, that Gov. McMaster knows how important the Savannah River Site and MOX facility is" to Aiken's economy, said the real estate agent. "And (McMaster) will take the face-to-face opportunity to tell the president, 'You have to uphold our lawsuit.' "
Earlier this month, a judge stopped the federal government from suspending construction of a nuclear fuel factory at the Savannah River Site atomic weapons complex near Aiken. The ruling halted federal efforts to walk away from the mixed-oxide fuel project, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
The fuel plant, currently under construction, would turn excess weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. But the U.S. Department of Energy wants to abandon the project, shipping excess plutonium, now stored at SRS, to New Mexico for disposal. Attorney General Alan Wilson has sued the Energy Department, arguing that failing to complete the fuel project, known as MOX, will hurt the state’s economy, cost thousands of jobs and leave South Carolina with tons of deadly plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.
"This is nuclear waste sitting in our state and broken promises from the federal government," Aiken's Thompson said. "And Alan Wilson and Henry McMaster are working to protect the citizens and economy of our state by forcing the federal government to live up to their promise. And President Trump understands the importance of our nuclear program."
Trump supporter and state Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Berkeley, said she would like to hear Trump discuss how the federal government plans to help states like South Carolina repair deteriorating roads and bridges, and help those struggling with drug addiction. She also would like to hear how McMaster's relationship to the president could aid the state in both areas.
"Relationships in this business are difficult to come by and they can be fleeting," Mace said. "I know the governor’s got a close, personal relationship with the president. And that’s what the people of South Carolina need right now."