COLUMBIA — Republican-leaning South Carolina probably won’t be a major factor in the presidential race, so attention is turning to the 2018 campaign for governor.
Incumbent Nikki Haley is constitutionally prevented from seeking a third term, but lots of Republicans are jockeying to succeed her, even with the filing period still 18 months away.
The speculative list of those in the discussion remains fluid. Some contenders have started fundraising toward the $2 million to $4 million needed to run a credible campaign. Others are traveling the state and taking the temperature of voters, speaking to small groups and building name recognition.
The potential field is less clear for Democrats, who haven’t fared well in recent gubernatorial elections and still have a way to go in determining their best contenders.
For everyone, the outcome of the presidential election, the upcoming legislative session and the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe are expected to influence the months ahead.
Here’s a snapshot of the evolving GOP field:
Former Lt. Gov. J. Yancey McGill
Occupation: Real estate broker/home builder
Notable: McGill spent 25 years as a Democrat representing a heavily Democratic Senate district in Williamsburg and Georgetown counties. He briefly served as lieutenant governor during a 2014 Senate leadership shake-up when former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell resigned to become president of the College of Charleston.
In his favor: McGill announced both his party change and candidacy for governor in March. His early fundraising hauls in the Pee Dee have been strong with more than $150,000 on hand in a gubernatorial campaign account.
Biggest hurdle: His lengthy time as a Democrat is the biggest strike against him, but voters have supported party switches before.
State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-Rock Hill
Occupation: House speaker pro tempore and attorney
Notable: Prior to his arrival in the Statehouse, he served as the solicitor for the 16th Circuit, from 1993 until 2006, and prosecuted Susan Smith in the drowning death of her two children in 1995. Pope was the primary sponsor of an ethics bill passed this year to create an independent ethics panel. It was an important piece of Haley’s reform platform.
In his favor: Pope was the first Republican to announce his candidacy.
Biggest hurdle: He needs to boost his name recognition statewide.
Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster
Occupation: Lieutenant governor and attorney
Notable: He practically announced his bid on August 25, declaring he is “hoping to be in” the 2018 race during a Facebook broadcast with state Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore. McMaster was appointed U.S. attorney for South Carolina by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and served four years. He was state GOP chairman from 1993-2002 before being elected state attorney general. He lost his bid for governor in 2010 and became lieutenant governor in 2014.
In his favor: Was one the earliest elected officials in the nation to endorse Donald Trump for president.
Biggest hurdle: No one knows where Trump is taking the GOP. McMaster’s support of the presidential candidate could be a blessing or a curse for mainstream Republicans.
Attorney GeneralAlan Wilson
Occupation: S.C. attorney general
Notable: Before being elected attorney general in 2010 and again in 2014, Wilson served as an assistant solicitor and as an assistant attorney general and was briefly in private practice. His stepfather is U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
In his favor: Wilson has joined with other Republicans and other attorneys general in opposing the Obama administration on mandates covering gender bathrooms, immigration law changes through executive order and other areas.
Biggest hurdle: Wilson, the state’s top legal officer, was dealt a setback for being on the losing end of the state Supreme Court’s ruling that said he did not have the power to fire the special prosecutor he appointed in the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe.
U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney
Occupation: 5th District congressman from Indian Land, near Fort Mill.
Notable: Mulvaney served one term as a state representative in 2006 before becoming a state senator in 2008. He challenged and beat Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. John Spratt in 2010 during the congressional tea party wave.
In his favor: Mulvaney geographically would have a congressional district behind him.
Biggest hurdle: He has to focus for now on his reelection campaign against well-funded Democratic challenger Fran Person, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden.
Businessman Bill Stern
Occupation: Real estate developer, president of Stern & Stern
Notable: The Columbia-based developer of more than 30 years would model his gubernatorial bid off the success of a fellow developer, Donald Trump. Stern has spent more than 14 years on the State Ports Authority Board.
In his favor: He said he’d self-fund his campaign.
Biggest hurdle: Stern said he would become involved only if he doesn’t see his ideal candidate in the race.
Former DHEC director Catherine Templeton
Occupation: President of management consulting firm Brawley Templeton LLC
Notable: Templeton was appointed by Haley in January 2011 to lead the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation before overseeing the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, from March 2012-January 2015. Before entering the public sector, she was a labor-issues lawyer for 12 years who took on anti-union fights.
In her favor: Templeton managed two state government agencies and so far is the only woman in the conversation.
Biggest hurdle: No previous elected office experience.
Former 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Billy Wilkins
Occupation: Defense attorney with Nexsen Pruet firm
Notable: Wilkins served six years as the 13th Circuit solicitor before being nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to the federal bench in South Carolina. Five years later was nominated and confirmed for a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals where he remained until 2007. He served as chief judge for his last four years. He handles white-collar cases for Nexsen Pruet out of Greenville.
In his favor: Wilkins comes from the Greenville area, which is the heart of the Upstate’s Republican base. Former S.C. House Speaker David Wilkins is his brother.
Biggest hurdle: Not a household name in GOP politics.
Republicans who would make the race more interesting, or who are being encouraged to run: state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort; state Rep. Kirkman Finlay of Columbia; state Treasurer Curtis Loftis; U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford; and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.