Former Gov. Beasley endorses Leatherman

Screenshot of Gov. David Beasley in campaign ad for Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.

COLUMBIA — The leader of South Carolina’s Senate, who is facing two challengers in the upcoming Republican primary, has received the endorsement of former Gov. David Beasley.

In a campaign ad for Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman of Florence, Beasley says that as governor he could always count on “my friend, Sen. Leatherman.”

“Today, outside groups are attacking our senator,” Beasley says in the dialogue. “Why? Because they know they can’t control Hugh Leatherman. But that’s why we love him. Because he’s our senator, not theirs.”

Beasley first served in the state House of Representatives from 1975 to 1995, rising through the ranks to become House Speaker Pro Tempore. In 1994, he was elected governor, and served through 1999. He lost his re-election bid to Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges. The race was largely fueled by his unilateral support for bringing down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse — a movement he announced without first consulting other Republicans.

The ad also highlights that Leatherman is the first Senate leader from the Pee Dee region in more than 100 years. Both men live in the Pee Dee: Leatherman in Florence, Beasley in Society Hill in Darlington County. Neither could be reached for comment.

Leatherman has served in the Legislature since 1981 and is arguably one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, seeking re-election for his Senate District 31 seat.

Though it’s been a while since Beasley left office, his endorsement will likely carry some weight with establishment Republicans, College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said.

Plus, it’s ideal for long-term lawmakers to receive endorsements during the primary period. That’s when they are most vulnerable, Knotts said, adding that most districts aren’t competitive during the general election.

“It’s a real uphill battle to go after somebody who has the name recognition and political experience that Leatherman has,” Knotts said.

Leatherman may be facing two challengers during the upcoming Republican primary but has a deep war chest. According to the State Ethics Commission, Leatherman reported more than $1 million in his campaign coffers. One of his challengers, Richard Skipper, has raised $65,000. Skipper was elected as the Florence County Republican Party chairman in 2013. He is the owner of an insurance agency in Florence.

Leatherman’s other challenger, Dean Fowler, is the Florence County treasurer. Fowler has raised no money, according to his April 10 campaign disclosure report.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-577-7111.