Cindi Ross Scoppe

Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s make the race for SC governor about ... South Carolina

SC Gov Henry McMaster and Rep James Smith
SC Gov Henry McMaster and Rep James Smith

THE TWO emails arrived within 17 hours of each other.

The first was from a public relations person pitching a guest column that complained about some sort of anti-environmental measure that had been attached to a military spending bill. He obviously had submitted columns before because he knew I wasn’t interested in federal issues. But he thought surely I’d make an exception since the writer was “a Columbia, SC native and he is running for state office in November.”

I replied that this was even more reason not to be interested: Except when we provide a special election forum, we don’t run guest columns from candidates unless I would run them if they weren’t candidates. That is: We don’t run campaign ads disguised as guest columns.

What I didn’t say, because there was no reason for me to tell him this, is that I can’t imagine why anyone in South Carolina should care what the Democratic candidate for S.C. secretary of state thinks about a federal policy. A policy over which he would have no control.

Note the word “should,” as we move to the second email.

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This was a news release with the subject line: “Does South Carolina Dem Gov Candidate James Smith Support Abolishing ICE?” It gave no reason why anyone would imagine that Rep. Smith would support this bizarre idea embraced by a few extremist Democrats, but it noted that the topic was “becoming a key litmus test for Democrat candidates nationwide.”

I guess I understand why it would be “a key litmus test” for candidates for federal office.

But for state office?

Of all people, governors ought to know that governors have more than enough to do without going looking for federal issues to talk about. Yet this demand for comment on something over which no governor would ever have even indirect control came from an arm of the Republican Governors Association.

It’s understandable that a candidate for secretary of state would want to change the subject, since the secretary of state is a glorified file cabinet — a position that certainly shouldn’t be elected and probably shouldn’t even exist. I wouldn’t have even mentioned that race but for the fact that it was the proximity of those two emails that got me thinking about this.

Well, that and the fact that I wanted to be able to make the point that the nationalization of state elections isn’t just a Republican problem.

It can seem in South Carolina like Republicans are causing all the state-level problems, but that’s mainly because they’re the only ones with enough power to do any damage. I suspect that in deep-blue states, Democrats are demanding that Republican candidates for governor take a stand on the federal tax cuts and, of course, the president. Everything about the president.

If a candidate brings the president into the state to campaign for him, or spends all of his money bragging about how close he is to the president, I suppose it’s fair to ask him if the president has ever done anything that he objects to. Anything at all. Just like it’d be fair to ask Democrats what they thought about abolishing ICE if they were getting members of the abolish-ICE gang to come campaign for them.

Otherwise, it’s an insulting distraction.

The election for South Carolina’s governor does not need to be a referendum on Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone or anything else that South Carolina’s governor has no say over.

The election for South Carolina’s governor needs to be about the future of South Carolina. It needs to be about how we can leverage our many advantages and correct our many problems.

It needs to be about how we make sure all children get the education they need to become productive citizens, regardless of where they live and how poor or uninterested in education their parents may be. It needs to be about how we make our state an attractive place for our own businesses to grow and for outsiders who are looking for a place to bring their businesses. It needs to be about how we make our state a safe and nourishing place that South Carolinians are proud to call home and visitors want to make their home.

The election for South Carolina’s governor needs to be about how to make our government more efficient and effective and accountable and how to make our elected officials more ethical and responsible and responsive.

What we ought to be asking Gov. Henry McMaster is why he’s talking so much about federal matters, when he says what he wants to do is run our state.

Just like we ought to ask Rep. Smith why he’s talking about federal matters. If he were. Which he probably won’t because he knows that although it’d make the extremists on the left happy, there aren’t many of them in South Carolina, and pushing hot federal buttons is only going to hurt him in deep-red South Carolina.

But the most important question is the one we ought to be asking ourselves: Why do we respond so well to completely irrelevant campaign pitches? There’s plenty of partisan red meat to be found in issues that are within a governor’s portfolio. Why can’t we stick to those?

Candidates don’t try to federalize state races unless they think it’ll benefit them. And the reason they think it’ll benefit them is that, too often, it does.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.