COLUMBIA — Two of South Carolina’s most popular Republicans, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, are weighing a joint run for governor and lieutenant governor in 2018, The Post and Courier learned Friday.
A ticket with a pair of influential members of the state’s congressional delegation could clear the 2018 GOP field that is expected to include S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, the son of a congressman, and Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, an early supporter of President-elect Donald Trump.
"It would be like Michael Jordan and Lebron James being on the same team," S.C. GOP Party Chairman Matt Moore said of a Scott-Gowdy ticket. "A lot of South Carolina Republicans would be very excited if this happens."
Moore said he cannot tell candidates whether or not to enter the race but acknowledged challenging the duo "would be an uphill battle for anyone to run against."
A decision on a run is expected by year’s end, a source with knowledge of the discussions told the newspaper. South Carolina voters will elect a governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket for the first time in 2018.
Scott is considering a run because he always wanted to be governor, which has become possible with the election of South Carolina’s first woman and minority governor, Nikki Haley, in 2010, the source said. If elected as the state’s first African-American governor, the 51-year-old from North Charleston would get to continue the legacy as a history-making state leader looking to forge a new vision of the South based on inclusiveness and conservative principles.
Gowdy, 52, has made it no secret he doesn’t like living away from his family in Spartanburg. So a chance to go home for a job as lieutenant governor in South Carolina and work with one of his best friends could be attractive.
Scott and Gowdy have become extremely close friends since they first arrived in Washington, D.C., in 2010 as congressmen. They eat dinner together nearly every night during the congressional workweek and visit each other on either side of the Capitol now that they no longer serve together in the same chamber. They have also been traveling the state holding listening sessions with faith leaders and law enforcement officers to bridge trust gaps between the two communities.
Scott has also always looked out for Gowdy’s political and personal ambitions, consistently putting his name up for possible nomination for federal judgeships when openings in South Carolina arise, even as Gowdy insists the efforts are futile since his chairmanship of the special Benghazi committee made it so he’d never be able to survive Senate confirmation hearings.
With Gowdy’s name now rumored to be on the shortlist for Trump’s attorney general, those conversations about the viability of being confirmed might spark anew. In the Senate, even one lawmaker can put a block on bringing a nominee to the floor.
Word of a potential Scott-Gowdy ticket comes as Trump is considering Cabinet and ambassador appointments after defeating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.
The timing would give McMaster, a former state GOP chairman and attorney general, and Columbia businessman Bill Stern, another Trump supporter considering a run for governor, a chance to weigh options in the new administration, the source said.
Other Republicans considering runs for governor are former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, former South Carolina health agency head Catherine Templeton and former 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Billy Wilkins.
Scott is the state’s first African-American U.S. senator. He won his first six-year term to the Senate on Tuesday. When he was a congressman, Scott was appointed by Haley in 2013 to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned to take over the conservative advocacy group Heritage Foundation.
Scott won an election for the final two years of DeMint’s term in 2014, making him the first African-American elected to statewide office in South Carolina since Reconstruction.
On Friday, Scott would neither confirm nor deny conversations have been taking place to run on a ticket with Gowdy, but emphasized no plans were being immediately put into action.
"Absolutely no decisions have been made on this matter,” Scott said in a statement relayed by his communications director. “We're focused on the first 100 days of Trump's presidency and making sure that we use conservative policies to ensure opportunity is available for every American.”
Gowdy “is focused on continuing his work in the House,” said Amanda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the congressman. “He is likely to be on four committees this year, and the House has a robust legislative agenda, which begins immediately.”
Gonzalez added, “Rep. Gowdy believes Tim Scott is a unique kind of leader, and he looks forward to seeing what the future holds for him.”
She would not confirm or deny that conversations had taken place about a joint gubernatorial ticket.
Gowdy and Scott were first elected to congress in the tea party wave of 2010 along with Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Jeff Duncan of Laurens. Mulvaney was considered a possible gubernatorial candidate, though that chatter has quieted in recent weeks.
Gov. Nikki Haley is constitutionally limited from serving a third consecutive term.