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Warren won’t test McMaster with South Carolina gov rematch

January 6, 2022 GMT
FILE - Republican John Warren participates in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on June 5, 2018. The multimillionaire businessman who forced South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff has started a Bitcoin mining company. Warren on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, launched GEM Mining, to be headquartered in Greenville, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, File)
FILE - Republican John Warren participates in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on June 5, 2018. The multimillionaire businessman who forced South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff has started a Bitcoin mining company. Warren on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, launched GEM Mining, to be headquartered in Greenville, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, File)
FILE - Republican John Warren participates in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on June 5, 2018. The multimillionaire businessman who forced South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff has started a Bitcoin mining company. Warren on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, launched GEM Mining, to be headquartered in Greenville, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, File)
FILE - Republican John Warren participates in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on June 5, 2018. The multimillionaire businessman who forced South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff has started a Bitcoin mining company. Warren on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, launched GEM Mining, to be headquartered in Greenville, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, File)
FILE - Republican John Warren participates in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., on June 5, 2018. The multimillionaire businessman who forced South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster into a 2018 GOP runoff has started a Bitcoin mining company. Warren on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, launched GEM Mining, to be headquartered in Greenville, S.C. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Multimillionaire businessman John Warren has opted not to challenge South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to a rematch of their 2018 GOP primary face-off, saying Thursday he would sit out this year’s election — but not ruling out a future bid.

“Right now, given my responsibilities as CEO, I do not plan to seek public office in 2022,” Warren said on Twitter, saying he’d be placing emphasis on the Bitcoin company he launched last year.

There had been speculation that Warren, 42, would mount a redo of 2018, when the businessman leveraged more than $3 million of his own money to fund his challenge of McMaster, whom he portrayed as part of an ineffective establishment. Even though he’d entered just months before the race, Warren’s effort catapulted him from political anonymity to second-place finisher in a four-way GOP primary, forcing McMaster to a runoff.

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The subsequent two-week sprint included a last-minute trip from President Donald Trump to stump for McMaster, who as lieutenant governor had been the first statewide-elected politician in the country to back Trump’s 2016 bid. Warren netted endorsements from two of his former GOP foes but ultimately lost to McMaster by a single-digit margin.

On Thursday, Warren also noted that the PAC he founded in 2020 would wade into legislative and education superintendent races this year but made no specific mention of the gubernatorial contest. Last month, Warren told the AP that South Carolina’s Conservative Future will “play a very, very large role in next year’s elections, especially with superintendent of education and several House races” but that he had “no comment” on the top of the ticket.

Thus far for this year’s election, McMaster has raised more than $3.5 million and faces no GOP opponents raising significant money.

“We wish Mr. Warren well in his new endeavors and look forward to working with him to elect and reelect conservatives all across South Carolina,” Mark Knoop, McMaster’s campaign manager, told The Associated Press.

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Democrats have set themselves up for an active primary, with former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, state Sen. Mia McLeod and party activist Gary Votour among those filing to run. In a statement to the AP on Thursday, Cunningham accused McMaster of “working extremely hard to pander to the most extreme voices in our state in hopes of avoiding a primary challenge by John Warren,” but noting the general election ahead.

On Thursday, former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore said Warren’s move helped clear the way for McMaster to win a second full term, a victory that would allow the incumbent to make an unprecedented decade in office, given that he took over the final two years of Nikki Haley’s second term.

“The South Carolina GOP is unified at the top of the ticket, and Democrats seem divided, between McLeod and Cunningham” Moore told the AP. “All signs point to an easy reelection for Gov. McMaster.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.