NEWS: Possible candidates already eyeing governor’s mansion

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By Andy Brack  |   It might seem early to some, but potential candidates who want to be the state’s next governor are already looking at whether a bid to succeed Gov. Nikki Haley is winnable.

14_sellers70“It would not surprise me if the two candidates from the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race decided to run for governor in 2018,” said Gibbs Knotts, head of the political science department at the College of Charleston. “Henry McMaster is the sitting lieutenant governor and Bakari Sellers has experience running a statewide campaign.”

Other sources say McMaster, a Republican, is happy being lieutenant governor and Sellers, a Democrat who may be eyeing 2018, also is interested in serving in Congress should Sixth District U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn decide to retire.

10_wilson_60Many suggest that two-term Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson is the hands-on favorite for now for Republicans. Why? Because he’s vigorously opposed several hot-button big issues, such as Obamacare and gay marriage, by joining federal lawsuits.

Knotts said it would not be surprising if a current member of Congress decided to try to become governor. “It is possible, though not likely, that U.S. Sen. Tim Scott could run in 2018,” he said.

Others point to GOP Congressman Mick Mulvaney of the Rock Hill area. He’s got a harder edge, they say. And early front-runners often lose in primaries, one insider suggested.

Also mentioned as possibilities to top the 2018 GOP ticket are U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, former state Department of Health and Environmental Control head Catherine Templeton and (wait for it) former Gov. and current U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.  Update:  Also reportedly considering a race is House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope, R-York.

On the Democratic side besides Sellers, two popular officials often also are mentioned: Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and state Rep. James Smith, also of Columbia. Both have put in long years in party politics, but are relatively young and would bring fresh approaches, observers suggest.

What will it take to win?

At this point, the state is likely to vote in a Republican in 2018 because South Carolina is deeply red, Knotts said.

“Whoever gets the Republican nomination will have a tremendous advantage,” he said. “It is not impossible for a Democrat to win, but a Republican starts with a big head start.”

Louis Jacobson, a Washington columnist with Politico, observed this week that Republicans seem to have an advantage in gubernatorial elections in mid-term elections, which is what would happen in 2018. And that is borne out in data — currently there are 31 GOP governors, 18 Democrats and one independent.

2018“Mid-term electorates tend to be smaller, whiter, older and more Republican,” Jacobson wrote. “Presidential electorates tend to be larger, more demographically diverse and more Democratic.”

For a Republican to become governor in 2018 in South Carolina, pushing what’s already been successful — jobs, jobs, jobs — is what voters likely will hear.

“The winning formula for Republicans has been a low-tax, fiscally-conservative, job-friendly agenda,” Knotts said. “I would continue that approach.  Demographic shifts will make it increasingly difficult for Republicans to take far right positions on social issues, however.”

Democrats, who last won the governorship in 1998, will have a tougher time, he said.

“They would need to unite a coalition of minority voters and women.  Education and health care could be issues that help Democrats.”

One insider cautioned that if a Democrat becomes president in 2016, it would be harder in South Carolina for a Democrat to become governor because of how elections have become nationalized. In other words, the GOP at a national level would heap criticism on a Democratic president, which would drive issues in any gubernatorial race.

But if a Republican becomes president in 2016, the same logic would benefit Democratic candidates in the Palmetto State. They would be able to highlight GOP problems at a national level in statewide campaigns.

A key Democratic operative observed: “We have to ride a positive wave if we are going to win. They can have a bad national wave and they can still win.”

Election Day 2018 is 1,201 days away.

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