Trump-backed McMaster wins full term as South Carolina gov
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who supported Donald Trump when few other Republicans would dare stick their necks out, has finally cemented his own right to the office he’s held for nearly two years, and sought for much longer.
The longtime Republican politician was ebullient as he accepted victory Tuesday, defeating state Democratic Rep. James Smith. Flanked by his family and running mate Pamela Evette, McMaster said he’d help South Carolina “set a model for the whole country.”
“People are looking for good examples,” McMaster told his enthusiastic supporters. “I know I must stand two or three inches taller just because I represent the people of the great state of South Carolina, and I’m thrilled to do it for four more years.”
Tuesday’s election is the first in which South Carolinians chose a governor and lieutenant governor on a shared ticket. With the win, Evette becomes the second woman elected to the state’s second-highest office and the first Republican woman to do so.
It’s also a high-profile win for Trump, who’s been linked to McMaster since early 2016, when the then-lieutenant governor became the nation’s first official elected to a statewide office to endorse Trump’s presidential bid.
At the time, the move surprised many of McMaster’s allies and friends in South Carolina’s GOP establishment. But his wager paid dividends when Trump picked Nikki Haley as his U.N. ambassador, enabling 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 in the primary and was forced into a runoff where he ultimately defeated businessman John Warren.
AP VoteCast found that Trump was not a factor for 42 percent of South Carolina voters as they cast their ballots this time. 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 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.
Ceding victory to McMaster on Tuesday night, Smith told supporters he’s proud of the campaign he ran with his running mate, fellow state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell.
“We have to do everything we can to leave South Carolina better than we found it,” Smith said. “We made great strides this time.”
Rebecca Ellerton, 32, of Mount Pleasant, said she admires the Democrat, but cast her vote more against the Republican.
“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,” she said.
Clay Counts, a 25-year-old tech salesman from Liberty, said he respects Smith but felt McMaster had done well enough 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.”