Less than a mile away from where President Donald Trump would host a rally for S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster later Monday, Marie Starnes asked Greenville businessman John Warren — over her largely finished luncheon plate — "What do you plan to do for us?"
"I'm going to do a lot," Warren said inside a half-empty Shoney's restaurant Monday in West Columbia. "I'm going to end the corruption — starting (with) bringing some accountability to government."
Warren barnstormed across South Carolina on Monday in an attempt to drum up support before Tuesday's runoff and to offset the impact of President Trump’s last-minute intervention in the race for the Republican Party's nomination for governor.
Warren greeted about 40 supporters at a wine bar on Daniel Island on Monday morning before flying to West Columbia and meeting with about a dozen voters at Shoney's. He was headed next to a Baskin Robbins in Rock Hill and Fiesta Fresh Mexican Grill on Hilton Head Island.
In the weeks before the June 12 GOP primary, Warren surged up the polls.
Then, the day after he made the runoff, Warren announced two big endorsements — from the primary’s third- and fourth-place finishers, Mount Pleasant labor attorney and former state agency head Catherine Templeton and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant. Other endorsements followed, from 5th District U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman to the GOP's two 4th District runoff candidates, to state legislators to Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" fame, a conservative evangelical.
The runoff was looking good for Warren. Almost 60 percent of GOP primary voters had voted for someone other than McMaster on June 12.
Then, almost as fast as Warren's rising tide came in, it began running out. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for McMaster on Saturday in Myrtle Beach, and Trump stopped at Airport High School in Cayce to rally supporters for the governor just hours before the polls opened.
Warren on Monday downplayed the president's visit, calling it a favor to McMaster for his early support of the president. Instead, Warren pointed to a rift in the S.C. GOP between its establishment wing, led by McMaster, and primary voters who said June 12 they wanted change.
"What you've seen over the past two weeks is a unification of the conservative reform movement (that) is tired of the same status quo," Warren said.
Warren said many of his supporters would attend Trump's Airport High rally Monday. "They're supporters of the president," he said. "(But) they're not supporters of Henry McMaster.
"This is not a referendum on President Trump. This is a referendum on Henry McMaster's unelected, failed leadership."
The 39-year-old retired Marine infantry officer and founder of the Lima One Capital real estate lending firm continued to criticize McMaster on Monday, saying he had failed the state in education policy, road funding, reining in State House corruption and managing the V.C. Summer nuclear fiasco.
Warren never has held public office and has been dogged by questions about his knowledge of state government.
"He is totally right that I do not have experience in losing $4 billion with a failed nuclear project," Warren said Monday of McMaster. "That's the experience that needs to go away, and what we need is someone who can bring a record of accomplishment ... on the battlefield and a record of accomplishment in the boardroom by starting a company and growing hundreds of jobs."
Starnes, a 78-year-old retired state employee who lives in Irmo, said she found Warren "impressive" and will be voting for him.
"He's not a well-known politician, and I think he deserves a chance to help make our state better," Starnes said. "He's fresh. He's young. He's new."
Richard Guerard, 75, of Mount Pleasant, said he has been a Trump supporter from the beginning but will vote for Warren because "the corruption that's permeated (state government) has just been outrageous."
"Nothing's going to change unless we change the guard," Guerard said. "He's (Warren) led in combat. He's built a business from scratch to over $1 billion in capital. That, to me, shows he knows what he's doing."