Former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster soundly defeated Mike Campbell, son of the late GOP icon and S.C. governor, in Tuesday’s Republican Party runoff for lieutenant governor.
“This is a great state. We've got it all,” McMaster told supporters at a Columbia restaurant Tuesday night. “Don't consider us as being second to anybody. ...
“We need to raise our hopes, raise our dreams for every South Carolinian,” he said. “The next four years, we're going to have to fight.”
McMaster said he looked forward to working with “our great Gov. Nikki Haley, who has shown what she can do. ... We're going to form a great team; it's going to be an unbeatable team."
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With almost all votes counted, McMaster was leading Campbell 2-1.
McMaster finished first in the June 10 GOP primary, taking 44 percent of the more than 300,000 votes cast. Charleston developer Pat McKinney and Campbell finished in second and third place, respectively, each with about 24 percent of the vote. McKinney dropped out of the race before a recount of the two candidates’ votes, sending Campbell to the runoff.
The race demonstrated that “you can run an idea-based race without getting nasty and everybody can conduct themselves as gentlemen — that was kind of refreshing,” Campbell said Tuesday, offering his help to McMaster. “I wish him all the best. This was never about the other individuals in the race. It was deeply personal for me.”
McMaster of Columbia and Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers of Bamberg will compete for the office in November’s general election.
Sellers, a four-term state representative who chose not to run again for his House seat, immediately challenged McMaster to a series of five Lincoln-Douglas-style debates across the state, saying voters should have a chance to hear directly from the candidates about where they stand on issues. Sellers also said he has clear differences with McMaster.
“My opponent represents the status quo and is a decades-long career politician who has been running for office for close to 30 years,” Sellers said. “This election is not about what was South Carolina was, nor what South Carolina is; it's about what South Carolina can be. We have an opportunity to retire the good ol’ boy network in Columbia. Fresh leadership and fresh ideas is what I will bring to our great state as our next lieutenant governor,” Sellers said.
Asked about the debate challenge, McMaster was non-committal. “There will be plenty of time for those kinds of details later.”
The winner of the general election will run the state Office on Aging, preside over the state Senate and oversee a $38 million annual budget and 41 employees. Beyond those duties, the position is largely ceremonial and powerless.
However, depending on who wins the governor’s race in November, each candidate could lay claim to being a frontrunner for his party’s 2018 nomination for governor.
Whoever wins in November will succeed new Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, who took over the office this month with plans to serve until January. McGill filled a vacancy created when former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, resigned to become president of the College of Charleston.
If elected, both McMaster and Sellers have pledged to use their second-in-command status to advance agendas beyond the scope of the lieutenant governor’s duties as spelled out in the state law.
If McMaster and Haley both win in November, the two Republicans could foster more collaboration between the state’s top two offices.
McMaster, who placed third in the GOP primary for governor in 2010 and then endorsed Haley in the Republican runoff, said he would back Haley’s efforts to fight the federal government, lower taxes and attract businesses to the state.
Haley appointed McMaster to the State Ports Authority’s board of directors and made him a co-chair of her blue-ribbon ethics review committee. A former Haley staffer also joined McMaster’s campaign for lieutenant governor.
On the campaign trail, McMaster touted his political experience — as a U.S. attorney, eight-year state attorney general and eight-year state GOP chairman — as evidence he could lead the state if for some reason Haley vacated the office. If a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, Haley could be a candidate for the Cabinet or an ambassadorship.
Sellers has said education, economic development and improving the state’s roads — in addition to fighting crimes against the elderly and providing tax breaks to in-home care providers — are his priorities if elected.
Campbell ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2006, losing the GOP nomination in a runoff. This year, he struggled to compete in fundraising.