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11 things you need to know about Tuesday's SC GOP primary

SC Republican candidates governor, from left, Lt Gov Kevin Bryant, Yancey McGill, John Warren, Catherine Templeton and Gov Henry McMaster, debate at Clemson University on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.
SC Republican candidates governor, from left, Lt Gov Kevin Bryant, Yancey McGill, John Warren, Catherine Templeton and Gov Henry McMaster, debate at Clemson University on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. AP

SC Republicans — and voters who want to cast a GOP ballot — will go to the polls starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday to pick for the Republican nominees for governor, attorney general, the U.S. and SC. House and local county council races.

Here are 11 things you need to know about Tuesday's primary:

1. Who is running for the GOP nomination for governor?

There are five candidates: Gov. Henry McMaster — who had been lieutenant governor and became governor in January 2017 when Nikki Haley joined the Trump Administration — is being challenged by Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton and Greenville businessman John Warren.

2. Who are the candidates most likely to make a runoff?

Normally, the incumbent would expect to win without a runoff, having already been elected to office once. However, McMaster was not elected governor, so he's really not the incumbent. Nonetheless, polls say the Richland Republican is assured of making a June 26 runoff. The question is whether his opponent will be Templeton or Warren, who have pulled away from Bryant and McGill in the race for second place.

3. What is the case for McMaster?

Oddly, perhaps, for a lifelong Republican stalwart, it is a variation on FDR's Depression-era you-don't-change-horses-in-midstream spiel. South Carolina has been winning — announcing thousands of new jobs, seeing a falling jobless rate, etc. — and McMaster says: When you're winning you don't change the coach and bring in a rookie. McMaster also constantly reminds GOP primary voters that, nationally, he was the first statewide elected official to endorse Donald Trump for the GOP nomination for president. (Trump returned that favor by endorsing McMaster for governor.)

4. What is the case for Templeton?

Templeton was the head of the state departments of Labor Licensing and Regulation, and Health and Environmental Control under former Gov. Nikki Haley. So she has seen how state government works. And, she insists, it's corrupt, promising she is the "buzzsaw" needed to clean up that waste and corruption. Templeton also constantly reminds GOP primary voters that she was one of the first people that Haley called to help her make it a "great day in South Carolina" and interviewed for a post with the Trump Administration. (And she has a pistol.)

5. What is the case for Warren?

Warren says what is needed to clean up S.C. government is a true outsider, a successful businessman with a record of proven leadership, in his case in the Marines. The Greenville businessman was a total unknown six months ago. However, he has zoomed up the polls to threaten Templeton's grasp on a runoff slot. Being from the Upstate — an area with lots of GOP voters — helps Warren. After ruling S.C. politics for years, the Upstate has seen political power in the state shift, first, to Charleston and, more recently, to the Interstate 20 corridor. Upstate Republicans would love to reclaim their clout, and Warren is the candidate who could help them do that.

6. What is McMaster's weakness?

There are two: The "vision thing" and the Quinns. McMaster has been a fixture in S.C. politics since the '80s. When Gov. Haley resigned, McMaster achieved his lifelong goal: Becoming governor. However, critics say he's like the dog that finally caught a car — unsure what to do now that he has succeeded. Recently, McMaster has been pushing a vision of continued economic expansion lifting all boats and solving all the state's problems — from poverty to underperforming schools to impoverished rural counties. Templeton, Warren and Bryant also have made sure that GOP primary voters know that, for 30 years, McMaster was a client of GOP godfather Richard Quinn's political consulting firm, embroiled in the State House corruption probe. McMaster insists that scandal has nothing to do with him. But Templeton has gone so far as to speculate that McMaster could be a target of that probe.

7. What is Templeton's weakness?

There are several. She insists she's an outsider. But she was an insider for years, collecting more than $100,000 in no-bid consulting contracts from state agencies after resigning as the head of DHEC. Templeton also can be truthy at times. For example, as a state agency director, Templeton says SLED advised her to get a gun because she was making so many state employees unhappy by cutting their jobs. SLED says it did no such thing. And her record of buzzsawing state employees is mixed. Some sued, recovering more than $1 million. Templeton insists she saved the state far more.

8. What is Warren's weakness?

Understanding the job. Warren's proposed solutions — "I will (fill in the blank)" — ignore the reality that government is not a business, and, unlike a company CEO, the governor of South Carolina has very limited powers. The governor cannot fire senators who disagree with his or her vision, for example. However, Warren says he will recruit and help fund candidates to defeat powerful legislators, citing, in particular, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. Former Gov. Mark Sanford tried targeting legislators and failed. Haley went after Leatherman, specifically, and failed. Is there any wisdom in the third kick of the mule?

9. What other key statewide races are on the GOP primary ballot?

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson faces two challengers — state Rep. Todd Atwater of Lexington and Greenville attorney William Herlong — who say his closeness to the Quinns is disqualifying.

10. Are there any contested congressional races?


Races to watch:

1st District: Incumbent Sanford of Charleston, the former S.C. governor, faces a primary challenger from one-term state Rep. Katie Arrington of Summerville. Sanford never has lost a race. But a recent poll suggests the race could be incredibly close.

4th District: 13 GOP candidates are running to succeed U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg. Among the baker's dozen is former state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, best known for proposing a bill to limit bathroom access to the gender on your birth certificate.

7th District: Incumbent Tom Rice faces a primary challenge from pastor Larry Guy Hammond.

11. Are there any contested SC House races?


Among the S.C. House races to watch is:

District 71: Fourteen-year incumbent Nathan Ballentine of Chapin faces two GOP challengers, Todd Watlington and Britton Wolf. The winner of that three-way race will run unopposed in November. Unanswered? If re-nominated, will Ballentine almost immediately announce his candidacy for the District 20 state Senate seat opening created by the resignation of Republican John Courson?

District 87: With incumbent Rep. Atwater seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general, three Republicans are seeking the nomination in the Lexington County House seat — Austin Bowers, Paula Rawl Calhoon and Todd Carnes. Democrat Diane Summers faces the winner in November.

District 89: Freshman Rep. Micah Caskey of Lexington faces a primary challenge from Billy Oswald. The winner is unopposed in November.

District 96: Rep. Kit Spires of Lexington, who is seeking a seventh term, faces a primary challenge from Perry Finch. Democrat Bob Vanlue will face the winner in November.

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.