SC Republicans vote to skip 2020 presidential primary

South Carolina Republican leaders have voted to scrap the state party’s presidential preference primary in February 2020.

The party’s executive committee voted 43-1 by voice vote Saturday.

Only one voting member of the state’s 46 counties voted in favor of holding a primary.

“As a general rule, when either party has an incumbent president in the White House, there’s no rationale to hold a primary,” S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement after the vote. “With no legitimate primary challenger and President Trump’s record of results, the decision was made to save South Carolina taxpayers over $1.2 million and forgo an unnecessary primary.”

With precedent on their side, S.C. GOP leaders say, they also point to President Donald Trump’s support among S.C. Republican voters.

In 2004, S.C. Republicans called off their primary given a lack of opposition to then-President George W. Bush. They did the same in 1984 for President Ronald Reagan. State Democrats have done it too: 1996 for President Bill Clinton and 2012 for President Barack Obama.

But Trump’s support still has sparked challenges from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld to former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh. More notably inside the state of South Carolina, former Gov. Mark Sanford, who has often found himself in Trump’s cross hairs, has weighed the idea.

Sanford told The State on Friday he expected state GOP leaders to scrap its presidential primary, but said it had no bearing on whether he runs. Sanford declined Friday to say when he would make his announcement but acknowledged, “I’m near the end of my ponder.”

The move by the executive committee has its critics.

Rob Godfrey, a former top aide to former Gov. Nikki Haley, tweeted, “bad decision for the party, the process and the president.”

“It’s bad for the party because primaries are an opportunity to bring more people into politics, more people to participate,” Godfrey, a former party spokesman, told The State on Saturday. “It’s bad for the process because it’s heavy handed, because a small number of people are making a big decision that affects a lot of people. And it’s bad for the president, because you’d think his team wants to rack up as many wins in early states as possible to look like he is as electorally strong as possible.”

To hold a GOP presidential primary in South Carolina would cost about $1.2 million, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina Elections Committee. The party has 90 days before the primary, set for Feb. 29, 2020, to make its final decision.

Several executive committee members told The State cost was a top reason to nix the primary.

“I just feel like to do a separate primary and to use over a million dollars of taxpayer money in the state of South Carolina, when we have a candidate, Donald Trump, polling over 90% among South Carolina Republicans, it’s ridiculous to even think about,” said Cindy Costa, a S.C. Republican National committeewoman.

However, critics argue candidates help pay that cost with large filing fees and a primary can be an economic boon to the state.

“It brings the eyes of the world to focus on South Carolina, just as they have during the Democratic primary process,” Godfrey said. “That’s a great thing for South Carolina. It invites candidates and teams to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in our state.”

Despite the vote Saturday, Sanford, Walsh and Weld could still appear on S.C. ballots in the November general election, Whitmire said.

But it’s an uphill climb to get there.

Those presidential hopefuls would have to be either nominated by a certified political party that is recognized in the state or the potential candidates would need to submit a petition that includes 10,000 signatures of registered South Carolina voters.

Petitions are due to the Election Commission by noon July 15, 2020. The signatures must be verified before a candidate is added.

Whitmire said presidential candidates have successfully petitioned to get on the ballot in South Carolina: Ralph Nader and Ross Perot.

But their biggest obstacle, Whitmire said, is petitioning enough states to appear on enough ballots to win the electoral college.

South Carolina does not have an option for write-in candidates for the office of president.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.