By Kenneil Mitchell
Carolina Reporter & News
President Trump has officially endorsed Gov. Henry McMaster in next year's race for governor, but a University of South Carolina political scientist says he doesn't believe the Trump endorsement will be the ultimate catalyst for victory.
“In terms of how much it’s going to actually have an impact when we get to the issues that are really facing the candidates in the Republican primary, I think it’s, again, fairly limited,” said Robert Oldendick, a longtime observer of South Carolina politics.
McMaster hopes that President Trump’s endorsement will boost his chances of retaining the state's top post, which he assumed when then-Gov. Nikki Haley was named U.N. ambassador.
On Oct. 16, Trump headlined a private, $250 per-person fundraiser in Greenville for McMaster, a former lieutenant governor and attorney general.
McMaster supporters stood at attention, smart phones high in the air, and cheered when Trump and McMaster stood together in front of the American flag. Outside, about 500 protestors gathered nearby at Falls Park.
“I just want to say his poll numbers are fantastic. He’s doing really well. People respect him and Peggy and the family,” Trump said. “And he’s a terrific person, a terrific man, who works so hard. He loves South Carolina.”
McMaster was one of the first South Carolina officials to endorse Trump during his Presidential campaign.
Oldendick said that a major issue for McMaster is his approval rating among undecideds.
According to the most recent Winthrop University poll, McMaster’s approval rating is at 47 percent among South Carolinians surveyed. The number of citizens that disapprove of McMaster’s performance is at 21 percent. The key number, according to Oldendick, is the 28 percent that haven’t formed an opinion on McMaster’s job performance.
This makes it an important mission for McMaster, who lost in the 2010 GOP primary to Haley. According to the Rasmussen Reports, Haley received 49 percent of the votes to McMaster’s 17 percent.
Oldendick does believe that McMaster has a good chance of winning the 2018 gubernatorial race, but he needs to overcome two major issues.
One issue revolves around well-funded candidates facing him in the GOP primary.
“If you look at the last quarter’s fundraising efforts, Catherine Templeton actually matched him, and I think exceeding by a little bit in terms of how much money she was able to raise,” he said.
From July through September, Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney, raised $602,874, which surpassed McMaster’s $567,784.
As an incumbent, McMaster has raised about $2.3 million, compared to Templeton’s $2 million.
Another candidate in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, has raised $353,000.
Yancey McGill, former lieutenant governor, has raised $447,164. He has since spent most of the money and has raised another $26,745 from July to September.
Another obstacle for McMaster revolves around fixing his public image, including ethics questions, Oldendick said.
“I think there’s some issues in terms of some of the ethics investigations that are going on in the state,” he said. “The whole kind of role that Governor McMaster played in the nuclear power closing and how that impacts people’s perception of his role and competence as governor.”
During his 2010 GOP primary, Greenville businessman David Ellison filed a complaint about McMaster using 51 over-the-limit contributions to pay off his campaign debt.
Ellison’s complaint states that since McMaster didn’t make the GOP runoff, he was ineligible to raise funds.
But Monday, in front of a cheering crowd, McMaster exuded confidence about 2018 and Trump’s agenda.
“This is a magnificent man," McMaster said of Trump. “He’s changing the way people in the country think. In January, he won the primaries. In February, he’s been winning ever since. He’ll always be a part of our hearts.”
McMaster will face off against Templeton, McGill, and Bryant in the June 2018 South Carolina GOP primary.