The first draft of Henry McMaster’s GOP convention speech (copy)

Then-president candidate Donald Trump and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster appear alongside each other in 2016 at a Trump campaign stop in Gilbert. McMaster will speak this weekend at the South Carolina Republican Convention, where party members are slated to vote on four resolutions. File/Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

South Carolina Republicans on Saturday will be asked to take a stand for the Electoral College — the constitutional mechanism President Donald Trump called "a disaster for a democracy" four years before it cemented his White House win.

When an estimated 1,200 party faithful gather for their state convention near Columbia, they will consider a resolution urging state lawmakers "to preserve and defend the Electoral College," as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact gains momentum in other states.

On Tuesday, Maine's state Senate passed a bill that would give that state's electoral votes to the candidate who won the national popular vote.

So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have committed to an interstate compact aimed at electing presidents by popular vote.

Under the Electoral College, voters cast ballots not only for their desired presidential candidates, but also for some of the 538 electors who in turn select the winner. South Carolina has 9 electoral votes.

Had a national popular vote system been in place for the 2016 presidential election, Trump would have lost to Hillary Clinton.

The concern from state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick isn't about the upcoming 2020 presidential election math. He worries that moving toward a national popular vote system could undercut South Carolina's political popularity.

"In many cases, it would eliminate the political clout of smaller states — states like South Carolina," he said. "You would essentially have a situation where campaigns would react to that."

He added that if it became a reality, "candidates would campaign completely different and ignore pretty much everything between New York and L.A."

Another topic set to take center stage is one that Republicans here have long sought: voter registration by party.

On its June 2018 primary ballot, 82 percent of GOP primary voters said they would support registering by party. McKissick said the resolution is meant to put more pressure on the lawmakers to enact such a change.

"The idea of being able to register by party is not just a benefit to any one political party. It’s a benefit to all political parties, in my opinion," McKissick said. "It makes it easier to organize, raise money and campaign. That benefit accrues to everybody, not just Republicans."

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South Carolina is currently one of 15 states that have "open" primaries. This means any registered voter may cast a ballot in either party’s primary — but not both. South Carolina voters also don't have to register with a political party.

While Republicans maintain a political stronghold in the state, the 2018 election saw Democrats make inroads. One of the biggest seats they lost was in South Carolina's coastal 1st Congressional District, a seat held by a Republican for decades. 

McKissick said the convention will not focus on strategizing but will be centered on adopting resolutions, the party platform and electing officers.

Whether South Carolina Republicans will forgo a 2020 presidential primary election will go unanswered, for now. McKissick said the decision will be made at the party's executive committee meeting in the fall. The Republican National Committee will have to know by Oct. 1.

The two other resolutions the party will consider adopting this weekend include:

  • A resolution opposing "fusion candidacy," a state provision that allows one candidate to be the nominee for more than one political party.
  • A resolution to urge South Carolina to join the Convention of States, a push to call a convention that could consider amending the U.S. Constitution. The effort is being backed by those seeking to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government; limit its power; and enact term limits on members of Congress.

The GOP convention begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at River Bluff High School in Lexington.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

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