Lancaster’s Norrell joins Democrat Smith’s ticket for South Carolina governor’s race
The Nov. 6 election marks the first time South Carolina’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor will run as as a team.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster picked 51-year-old Travelers Rest business owner and political newcomer Pamela Evette. The Ohio native is a counterweight to McMaster’s lengthy legal and political resume in Columbia, and she hails from the heavily Republican Upstate.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, chose fellow attorney and Democratic lawmaker Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster. Norrell, 45, also is seen as a moderate Democrat who represents a relatively conservative district in the north-central section of the state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
The governor said Evette’s business experience and accounting background will bring a set of “fresh eyes” for how to best serve taxpayers.
Smith said Norrell would help advance his legislative agenda in a State House controlled by Republicans. She would offer input on policy, find and recruit potential appointees to states agencies and boards, and help oversee state agencies.
The running mates will debate for the first and only time Monday at the ETV studio in Columbia.
Here’s what each must do in the debate to help the ticket, according to S.C. political scientists:
For both candidates
1. Stay on message. “Be authentic, but be on the same page as the top of the ticket,” since that is who voters are ultimately voting for, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.
Furman University political science professor Danielle Vinson agreed.
“They need to further the message and agenda of the gubernatorial candidate,” Vinson said. “Don’t detract or undermine the message coming from the top of ticket.”
2. Focus on what you bring to the table. “Literally, the extent of my knowledge is Mandy is in the state legislature and Evette has some business background,” Vinson said. “I don’t know anything about these two women that would make me feel positively or negatively about the top of the ticket.”
For Norrell, that means emphasizing her rural, working-class roots as the daughter of mill workers, who was the first in her family to graduate from college, paying tuition by working at a textile mill, said Winthrop University’s Karen Kedrowski. Norrell, too, needs to highlight her legislative experience as a moderate Democrat who will bring Republicans and Democrats together, Kedrowski said.
For Evette, it means highlighting her background and accomplishments as a businesswoman, as well as her political outsider status, Knotts said.
“Her message needs to be ... ‘I’m a breath of fresh air, and I’ve got a new approach’ ... which seems to be popular in American politics,” he said. “Evette also has a chance to reach out to moderates as well by saying, ‘I know what its like to sign the front of a paycheck.’”
3. Avoid any major gaffes. “In terms of deciding the election in November, it’s not important at all, unless someone makes a colossal mistake,” Vinson said. “People vote for the top of the ticket. ... I don’t expect it to be surprisingly persuasive in any way.”
That said, each can help reinforce voters’ views of McMaster and Smith, and a strong performance could help both raise their own profile and influence in state politics, all three political scientists said.
“It’s a good opportunity for both to get some statewide exposure,” Knotts said. “Both could very well run for governor some day. It’s certainly a stepping stone ... and opportunity for South Carolinians to be introduced to these two, who could make a statewide run — whether for governor or other statewide office, or Congress. It’s a high profile platform for them.”
4. Display some depth on policy issues. Norrell has an advantage from serving in the S.C. House and being more familiar with the specifics of state policy. Evette is a newcomer to state politics.
“She has an impressive resume as a businesswoman ... but also needs to demonstrate enough competency of the issues so people don’t write her off as uninformed,” Kedrowski said. “She, no doubt, has to do much more work on understanding the policy issues coming up before the Legislature.”
Particularly on health care, Knotts said.
“There are still a lot of people who are concerned about health care and coverage for people with pre-existing condition, and they’re concerned about affordability,” Knotts said. “Nationally, it’s something Republicans are getting tripped up on. She needs to have a good answer to her vision for health care affordability and access.”
5. Appeal to moderate whites. Norrell will have a heavier lift to convince moderate, rural whites who voted for Trump in 2016 that the Democratic ticket is worth considering in 2018, Knotts said.
“It’s a group that, on paper at least, the Democrats can’t completely write off,” Knotts said. “They were the backbone of the Democratic party ... that’s it’s lost. People who voted for Trump to shake things up, but still may be receptive to kitchen table issues that the Democratic party has been talking about — economic development, health care and college affordability ... that play well with independents. That could be a formula for success.”
How to watch
The debate will air at 7 p.m. on SC ETV, S.C. Public Radio and on scetv.org.