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Governor hopefuls ready to spend millions

The storm of political ads heading to a TV screen near you are courtesy of the more than $2.3 million that the gubernatorial candidates plan to spend as the June 8 primary approaches.

Voters should be used to that by now. Campaign finance reports filed Monday and Tuesday show campaigns have raised $8.4 million and spent $6.1 million already for a chance to replace Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who must leave office in January under a two-term limit.

And that's not even all the cash in place. State Rep. Nikki Haley has been riding a surge of popularity and sympathy since securing a key endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and a blogger's unsubstantiated - and vehemently denied - claim of an affair with the Lexington Republican. Haley was the only GOP primary candidate who didn't meet a Monday midnight deadline to file and hadn't done so by Tuesday afternoon, well after the deadline.

Tim Pearson, Haley's campaign manager, had no immediate comment on the delay, but wasn't surprised at criticism from GOP primary opponent and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett's camp.

Barrett campaign manager Luke Byars said Haley, an accountant who makes transparency in politics a central issue, has repeatedly filed late reports in the gubernatorial campaign.

"I think it's in our best interest to be as transparent as we can be with our campaign filings so the voters can get a better idea of who is supporting our campaign and make it open to the public," Byars said. "When you don't file on time and bend the rules just a little bit, voters start having a different picture of you."

In the Republican race, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer appears to have the most money on hand heading into the primary campaign's last 14 days with $736,395. Barrett is second with $647,627 and Attorney General Henry McMaster has $545,444. However, Bauer also has put $70,000 of his own cash and borrowed $245,000 for the race while none of his remaining GOP opponents have borrowed or used their own cash.

"I've been saving my money," Bauer said. He noted the $274,315 he's raised since April puts him well ahead of other candidates in fundraising. Barrett trailed at $190,996 and McMaster at $127,570.

"We're very happy with where we sit two weeks out," McMaster spokesman Rob Godfrey said. "We'll have the resources we need in the next two weeks to execute a plan to secure a spot in the runoff and ultimately secure the nomination for governor."

In the Democratic primary contest, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen's $307,250 in cash on hand compared with $32,100 for Education Superintendent Jim Rex. Both filed their reports on Tuesday, after the deadline. State Sen. Robert Ford had not filed a report by Tuesday afternoon for that primary race.

Sheheen has raised $140,926 since April, more than three times the $50,530 Rex generated.

Ford said he wasn't aware his campaign finance report was due.

Sheheen campaign manager Trav Robertson said the numbers show Sheheen can raise the money needed to compete.

Rex campaign manager Zeke Stokes noted Sheheen already has spent more than $1 million on the race while Rex has spent $407,000 and is still competitive with Sheheen in polling data. All "they've been able to do is make it a tight race," Stokes said. "They've spent a million dollars helping these Democrats make up their mind and it hasn't worked."

"That's just the sound bite of a failing campaign," Robertson countered.