COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster has ended his three-decade relationship with his political consultant who has become the focus of a Statehouse corruption probe. Instead, he has hired the strategist behind Nikki Haley's two successful campaigns for governor.
Tim Pearson told The Post and Courier on Friday he has joined McMaster's campaign for 2018 and that Richard Quinn & Associates will not be involved in the race.
In a statement released to the newspaper Friday, McMaster did not say specifically if he ditched the Quinn firm that worked on his campaigns since he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1986. His statement, though, did not contradict Pearson.
“We have just begun putting together an expanded team," McMaster said in his statement. "Additional, former, and new team members and consultants will be added or used as needed.”
The new hire represents a a significant break. McMaster has backed the powerful Columbia-area firm while investigators subpoenaed records from several state agencies and corporations that hired Richard Quinn & Associates.
Richard Quinn & Associates founder Richard Quinn did not return phone calls Friday. He has not been charged in the probe.
Quinn was a sore spot for Haley and her campaign staff who accused the consultant of spreading false rumors about her having an extramarital affair during the 2010 GOP primary for governor. Haley, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted about the accusations in March, saying she "experienced the wrath" of Richard Quinn & Associates. Quinn ran McMaster's unsuccessful bid against Haley in 2010.
Pearson's new role with McMaster kicks the 2018 race into high gear.
The Connecticut native is credited with turning Haley, a six-year backbench South Carolina lawmaker with little name recognition, into a darling of the tea party just as voters were looking for fresh faces in 2010.
Haley became the nation's youngest governor at 39 when she upset three seasoned officeholders in the GOP primary and beat back a strong challenge from Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen in the general election.
Pearson was Haley's chief of staff for less than two years before returning to his role as her top political consultant. She built a reputation as the "jobs governor," touting economic development announcements and attending ground-breaking events as the economy recovered from the recession.
That message helped her win re-election handily in 2014 and put her in contention as a possible vice presidential pick in 2016. Now Haley is being discussed a future presidential hopeful.
For the 2018 race, Pearson will work with a candidate who has been part of South Carolina's political fabric for a long time. McMaster lost bids for the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor then chaired the S.C. Republican Party for nine years before winning the 2002 election for S.C. attorney general.
Pearson said he will work as the general consultant on McMaster's 2018 campaign, offering strategic advice on "big picture" issues. That role was filled on Haley's team by Washington, D.C.-area consultant Jon Lerner, who is Haley's deputy at the U.N. The McMaster campaign will hire a day-to-day manager, the role that Pearson held during Haley's elections.
Pearson joins the McMaster campaign as GOP gubernatorial challenger Catherine Templeton, a Charleston attorney and former head of the state health and labor agencies, has shown she is attracting some support from the Haley backers. McMaster edged Templeton, a first-time candidate, in fundraising during the first three months of the year, $960,000 to $700,000.
Templeton, McMaster and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, considered a long shot because he was a longtime Democrat, are the only Republicans actively running for the Governor's Mansion. No Democrats have formally joined the race.
Pearson said he has not added new staff to McMaster's 2018 campaign. Already on board are Brad Henry, a longtime consultant with the governor who will raise money inside South Carolina, and Caroline Wren, a veteran of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's campaign, who will oversee out-of-state fundraising.
Pearson said he has worked with the McMaster's office informally since he took office in late January after Haley's departure to the U.N., mainly in advising staffers about the mechanics of the governor's office. McMaster's chief of staff Trey Walker was part of Haley's administration soon after she took office in 2011.
"I have known the governor a long time," Pearson said. "I'm happy to help."
Pearson said he has been consulting with corporations outside the state since Haley left for New York. He plans on keeping his corporate clients, which he declined to name, while working with the governor's campaign.
"They don't have anything to do with South Carolina," he said.