Trump-backed McMaster wins South Carolina governor’s race
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Loyal Trump supporter South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster secured his first full term in office Tuesday, achieving the office he’s held for two years but long sought to win on his own merit.
This is the first election in which South Carolina has elected its governor and lieutenant governor on a ticket. With the win, McMaster’s running mate, businesswoman Pamela Evette, becomes the second woman elected to the state’s second-highest office and the first Republican woman to do so.
In defeating Democratic state Rep. James Smith in Tuesday’s general election, Republican McMaster’s victory also was a win for President Donald Trump, who had endorsed him and made several visits to South Carolina on the governor’s behalf.
McMaster’s ties to Trump are older than either man’s administration. In early 2016, then-Lt. Gov. McMaster threw his support behind Trump’s presidential bid, becoming the first statewide-elected official in the country to do so.
The move surprised many allies and friends of the longtime member of South Carolina’s establishment GOP circles. But McMaster’s wager paid dividends a year later, when Trump picked Nikki Haley as his U.N. ambassador, allowing McMaster to ascend to the governor’s office.
McMaster, 71, served two terms as South Carolina’s attorney general and previously led the state’s Republican Party. He lost a previous gubernatorial bid, coming in third in a four-way GOP primary in 2010 to Haley.
Although his position allowed him the mantle of running as an incumbent, McMaster drew four Republican challengers for this year’s primary election. Forced into a runoff, McMaster ultimately defeated businessman John Warren.
AP VoteCast found that, for 42 percent of South Carolina voters, Trump was not a factor they considered while casting their votes. By comparison, 29 percent said a reason for their vote was to express support for Trump, and 29 percent said they voted to express opposition to Trump.
Voters in South Carolina had mixed views of Trump: 54 percent said they approve of how he is handling his job as president, while 46 percent said they disapprove of Trump.
AP VoteCast is a nationwide survey of about 138,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,800 voters and 664 nonvoters in the state of New Jersey — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Smith, 51, has represented the Columbia area in the state Legislature for more than 20 years. The attorney was a JAG officer in the US Army Reserve and South Carolina Army National Guard but resigned his commission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to enlist in the infantry, ultimately serving in Afghanistan. His campaign had backing from former Vice President Joe Biden, who recorded a video for Smith’s candidacy and appeared at a fundraiser for him last month.
Clay Counts, a 25-year-old tech salesman from Liberty, said he respects Smith but felt McMaster had done a good enough job taking over for Haley to merit his own four-year term.
“I think Gov. McMaster will do a good job of being an ambassador of South Carolina to bring in new industry,” Count said. “I like the leadership he has shown in his interim and would like for him to continue serving.”
Rebecca Ellerton, 32, of Mount Pleasant, said she cast her vote more against the Republican incumbent than for Smith, although she said she admired the Democrat.
“I’m more opposed to Henry McMaster than in support of James Smith, although I think James Smith is a great candidate and would serve our state well as governor,” said Ellerton, who does customer support at Blackbaud.
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP .
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics