State Sen. Davis says he won't run for US Senate, governor

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said Friday he will not run for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's seat or any statewide office in 2014, including governor.

Instead, the Beaufort attorney said he could do more good in the state Senate, where he recently was appointed to powerful committees that include the Senate Finance Committee, a force in shaping the state's budget.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't tempting" to run for Graham's seat, Davis said. "But when you get right down to it and realize you have a limited amount of time, a limited amount of energy, and you sit down and figure out where you can make the most difference, it's a clear-cut decision. I can make far more of an impact in the (state) Senate."

Davis said he was surprised and thrilled to receive an appointment to the Finance Committee, where he can push changes to funding formulas for education and road projects -- state formulas that, he says, are unfair to Beaufort County.

"Looking at the challenges for my county and the things I'm working on, being on Senate Finance gives me a chance to not just simply (debate the budget on the Senate floor) and talk about changes that need to happen, but to actually make those changes," he said. "If I were going to run against Sen. Graham, I'd have to start now raising money full-time and going around the state. You simply can't do both. Instead, you take care of what's right in front of you."

Speculation has run high since the summer that Davis would challenge Graham in the Republican primary. During a rally in Tampa, Fla., for then-presidential contender Ron Paul, Davis blasted Graham and called for the defeat of the state's senior senator.

Davis, a second-term state senator, said the Statehouse is also the best place to continue his fight for a planned Jasper County port, which studies indicate would have a significant economic effect on the area. It's work he started when he was chief of staff for Gov. Mark Sanford.

"One of the big reasons I want to stay in the legislature is to keep (the project) from being stillborn," Davis said, adding that advocates for both the Charleston port and the Savannah port are working to kill the project because they see it as a rival.

"If someone isn't in the legislature watching like a hawk, it could die," Davis said.

Davis gave the same reasons for not challenging Gov. Nikki Haley, a Lexington Republican, in the GOP's 2014 primary.

But he has been disappointed with some aspects of Haley's first term.

"I wish she'd be more aggressive in making us a market-oriented state with less taxes, less regulation and more of a focus on attracting people here," Davis said.

He'd also like her to adjust business-recruitment policy.

"She has focused too much on big-game money, which is using incentives to go after big corporations and landing them. Everybody notices them. You have the ribbon cutting. You announce the 200 new jobs," he said. "But it costs money in terms of the incentives, the subsidies, and you don't see the small businesses that don't come here."

Chatter on who may challenge Graham has died in recent weeks, said Chad Connelly, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party. It could mean Graham will have few GOP challengers -- and maybe none.

"I think those who were considering a run are taking a look at what Graham has been up to in recent weeks," Connelly said. "He's taking a lead role in foreign policy and has probably hit Hillary (Clinton) and the (Obama) administration as hard as anybody on Benghazi. He's done a good job on some high-profile things."

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, says he is mulling a run.

"I'm talking to as many folks as I can to see what they think," Bright said Friday.