COLUMBIA — A close Republican governor's runoff race is expected Tuesday when voters choose between a veteran politician and a newcomer to face Democrat James Smith this fall.
Gov. Henry McMaster is the choice of the White House, so much so that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are coming to South Carolina to stump for him.
Greenville businessman John Warren might not have big names behind him, but he carries the Trump-like banner of being the outsider who will reform government.
Ahead of the runoff, here is where the candidates stand and what will help or hurt their chances:
The basics: The 71-year-old Columbia native has been governor since January 2017 when Nikki Haley left for the United Nations. He spent much of his adult life in public service and politics. He's been a U.S. attorney and S.C. Republican Party chairman. He's 3-for-3 in elections with successful runs for attorney general (twice) and lieutenant governor, and losing bids for governor, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate.
Where he stands: The frontrunner. He was the primary's top vote-getter and carries momentum with the Trump and Pence visits and a strong recent debate showing. But there's a reason to not expect a blowout. McMaster is not a high-energy candidate who ensures voters go to the polls for him.
Helps: McMaster has name recognition — his first race was in 1986. He has the job and can do governor-like things to generate news, such as an opioid emergency plan debuted last week or income tax cut plan unveiled last year. He has had a chance in the job to bolster his conservative credentials to issue orders against Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities. It doesn't hurt that unemployment continues to fall (really not his doing) and job announcements keep coming.
Hurts: Trump's endorsement cannot erase three decades of running for office or getting state government jobs. He has not put together a huge plan to overhaul government, saying instead he would work with lawmakers already in office. And he used a political consultant for decades who was at the center of a Statehouse corruption probe — a guilt-by-association that has made for some powerful attacks.
The basics: The 39-year-old Greenville native is a Marine combat veteran who runs Lima One Capital, a specialty real estate lending firm. He's a political newcomer. He self-financed, tossing in $3 million to hire top consultants and buy TV time. Warren was an unknown when he entered the race near Valentine's Day. But that's changed now.
Where he stands: The underdog. He was polling in low single digits a couple of months ago before managing to make the runoff with a brand that hit three core values to GOP voters — businessman, conservative and Marine — developed with consultants who worked on Trump's 2016 race.
Helps: He'e the new guy that many voters crave each election. He has no political baggage and owes no favors to the Legislature. Warren promises business-centric and faith-based solutions. Warren pledges to "drain the swamp" in state government, part of an argument he makes in saying he is more like the president than McMaster. His combat background projects strong leadership and common sense, and he appeals to younger voters. Warren would be the nation's youngest governor by four years if elected.
Hurts: The challenger, who needs more voters to know him, has not been very visible since the primary. Warren's blank slate can be unnerving since no one really knows what he will be like in office. His militarized talk about dealing with the General Assembly suggests he will get little accomplished, like Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley in her first year in office. He's not a big personality guy to sell the state.