Category: News

Republicans: Criticism of SC Dem governor nominee falls flat

Meg Kinnard
Associated Press

With less than four months until South Carolina voters pick their next governor, some leading Republican state lawmakers are suggesting that efforts by a group on their own side exemplify how the gubernatorial campaign has entered the “silly season.”

The Republican Governors Association on Tuesday launched a website accusing Democratic gubernatorial nominee James Smith of “consistently and shamelessly” supporting tax hikes during his more than two decades in the state House. A web ad from the group called Smith a “liberal politician” who backs “Bernie Sanders-style big government.”

In contrast, during the Democratic primary one of Smith’s opponents accused him of being too conservative. Charleston consultant Phil Noble flayed Smith for having a positive rating from the National Rifle Association and blamed the longtime legislator for the reason “South Carolina has one of the most lax sets of gun laws in the country.”

In a statement to AP, Smith called the RGA’s attacks “tired, false, divisive drivel.”

The website itself offers no details backing up the group’s assertions. Upon request, the RGA provided The Associated Press with several media articles about Smith’s stances, including a 2016 piece citing his support of raising the gas tax.

Smith was one of many lawmakers who backed raising the state’s gas tax to provide reliable revenue to fix South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and bridges. After weeks of contentious debate, legislative Republicans and Democrats alike voted overwhelmingly in 2017 to pass the increase, which Republican Gov. Henry McMaster pledged to veto.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both chambers then combined to defeat McMaster’s veto by more than 80 percent. Given that tremendous support for the bill, information like the RGA’s effort is nothing but politics intended to draw a contrast between the Democratic and Republican nominees — even if their parties have agreed on the issues — Republican Rep. Gary Clary told AP on Tuesday.

“All that does is establish a difference between James Smith and Henry McMaster,” Clary said. “James Smith, along with a lot of Democrats and Republicans, supported the increase of the gas tax. And Gov. McMaster vetoed it. … Everyone tries to seize on what they can in order to get an edge or a wedge.”

Instead of raising the tax, McMaster proposed borrowing up to $1 billion for road repairs and also asked the federal government for $5 billion. House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, who called McMaster’s quest for federal money a good idea but not a long-term solution, said the Republican Governors Association’s attack isn’t a surprise in an election year.

“The political season is also known as silly season,” the Republican said Tuesday. “That goes with the territory unfortunately.”

Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, said Tuesday that the RGA’s allegations are hard to swallow when compared with Smith’s bipartisanship, particularly on issues like the gas tax.

“Other than this gas tax, I don’t know that there’s a real record of him supporting massive tax increases,” Knotts said. “We’re in such a hyper-partisan environment right now. I have to believe at some point that people are going to say, well, when people can compromise and work together, that’s better.”

To Simrill, the improvements and safety fixes already evident on the state’s roads are evidence that the bill was the right one, regardless of party.

“Getting the job done was more important than partisan politics,” he said.

McMaster’s empty posturing does real-life harm to South Carolina

By James Smith

This campaign for governor can sometimes feel like two separate conversations that don’t connect at any point.

Our campaign is focused on South Carolina. My running mate, Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, and I are focused exclusively on real issues facing our citizens here at home. We advocate for a brighter future for our state, one in which no South Carolinian is left behind.

The incumbent seems to dwell in a different universe. In his world, all that matters are divisive national litmus-test issues. He recently vetoed millions in health care for the poor simply to deprive a few thousand for a group that his base objects to — and doesn’t even succeed in achieving his stated purpose. To him, it’s not about the people or the policy — it’s about the pose.

CNBC reported last week that “Poor health care is sapping this state’s Southern charm.” In the same week, though, Henry McMaster vetoed $16 million in health care for our state’s poorest citizens — in order to posture on an unrelated national issue. He tried backtracking on that Friday, but the incident illustrated how thoughtless he has been with regard to critical policy.

As governor, I will understand the impact of my vetoes before I make them.

And when the federal government imposes tariffs that threaten thousands of jobs here in South Carolina, McMaster won’t stand up against them.

We think our approach is the right one: focusing on things that matter to being governor and lieutenant governor. We’d like to just ignore McMaster’s polarizing poses. But he makes that hard.

That’s because the national issues he embraces often have such negative effects on South Carolina. So we have to speak out.

Let’s look at what’s ACTUALLY happening in our state as a result of the national policies that he either embraces or just won’t speak out against:

  • BMW is one of the great pillars of South Carolina manufacturing, providing almost 10,000 excellent jobs in the Upstate. But with the U.S. imposing arbitrary tariffs and other nations retaliating, BMW plans to build more SUVs overseas. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • BMW is just one of several important Upstate manufacturers that have written to the U.S. Commerce Department expressing deep concern about the harm the tariffs could do to their business, and the jobs they provide. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Volvo, which had planned to start building cars near Charleston later this year, is now questioning whether to add those 2,000 high-paying jobs – because of the tariffs. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Two weeks ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said South Carolina would be among the states most harmed by tariffs, as $3 billion of our state’s economy depends on international trade. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Last week, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce appealed to our state’s congressional delegation to do “whatever it takes to inform the administration about the jobs at risk” in our state. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • In its annual “Top States for Business” report this past week, CNBC dropped South Carolina to 30th. Our neighbors North Carolina and Georgia both made the top 10. And McMaster has done nothing.

And that’s just what we’ve seen in the last few days.

The governor has made poor, ill-informed decisions, and in other cases — such as the job-killing tariffs — has taken no action at all. His silence on these important issues is deafening.

James Smith is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Democratic nominee for governor.

Post and Courier


SC Democrat Smith goes to conservative Upstate to refocus his campaign. Will it work?

COLUMBIA, SC – State Rep. James Smith, the Democratic candidate for governor, took his campaign to the Upstate on Wednesday and will do it again Saturday.


Upstate Democrats say they are eager to turn the region — known as a hotbed of conservatism — into a competitive playing field for progressives.

“There’s already a lot of energy here,” Kate Franch, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Party, said Tuesday.

Smith’s stop Wednesday in Spartanburg County was about more than just turning out progressive Democrats to vote in November. It also was a chance to show S.C. voters that recent staff changes have not disrupted Smith’s campaign and prove the Smith-Mandy Powers Norrell ticket can appeal to blue-collar workers, many of whom voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, observers said.

“Those are your potential voters,” said York Technical College political scientist Rick Whisonant. “You want to be there again and again.”

Smith and his running mate state Rep. Norrell of Lancaster stopped in Greer on Wednesday, near German automaker BMW Manufacturing and its suppliers, to rail against President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

In particular, the U.S. automotive industry — which has a large footprint in South Carolina — is sensitive to the threat of trade wars with U.S. allies and China, which recently imposed an added 25 percent charge on U.S. cars entering that country.

BMW says it still plans to add another 1,000 S.C. jobs, bringing its Greer plant to 10,000 employees. However, Smith and Norrell said Wednesday they will stand up to Trump’s “job-killing trade policies that will be devastating to South Carolina families.”

Meanwhile, with the help of the Democratic Governors Association, the Smith campaign still is looking for a campaign manager after parting ways with Mike McCauley, Smith’s third campaign manager. (Last week, the campaign signed on a new spokesperson and social media manager.)

“We’re working with James Smith’s campaign — like all of our candidates — to build up a strong team for the general election,” said DGA spokesman Jared Leopold.

To win in November against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, observers say Smith needs to ensure his ground game in all 46 counties is near perfect and to continue building relationships with moderate voters — like he was trying to do Wednesday in Spartanburg.

Winning over those moderates will be key if Smith is to be competitive in November.

“I just don’t see how you win as a Democrat running statewide with a progressive, left-wing campaign in South Carolina,” said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “I just don’t see how that’s going to work.”

The State

South Carolina voters replenish Democrat Smith’s campaign. But will SC dollars be enough?

COLUMBIA — With Republicans preoccupied by a runoff for their party’s nomination, Democratic state Rep. James Smith wasted little time in raising more money for his bid to become S.C. governor, but he still trails his GOP opponent.

Smith said Tuesday that he and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, raised $316,135 between May 23 and June 30 for their campaign to become governor and lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s campaign filed its disclosure report Tuesday evening. McMaster raised $1.28 million combined with $769,000 cash on hand at beginning of the period. He spent $1.8 million, leaving him with more than $221,000 cash on hand, giving him an edge over Smith

Quarterly fund-raising reports, covering campaign activity from April to the end of June, were due Tuesday for statewide candidates. However, candidates have a five-day grace period to file the reports, giving them until midnight Monday before their filings are considered late.

Smith won the June 12 Democratic primary for governor in a three-way race against Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.

The 11-term S.C. House veteran hopes to spring an upset of McMaster in November to become the first Democrat to land the Governor’s Mansion in two decades.

While McMaster was locked in a two-week runoff with Greenville businessman and political newcomer John Warren, Smith held fundraisers, including with the Conservation Voters Political Action Committee, in an effort to replenish his campaign war chest for November’s general election.

Raising money — a lot more money — is just one of the things the Columbia Democrat must do if he is to be elected, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.

“It’s smart to capitalize on the momentum from the primary victory, but they’ve got a lot of work to do to raise the money” needed to run an effective statewide campaign, Knotts said.

“It’s going to be a super-competitive race,” he said. “To be able to run the ads and hire the staff, that’s certainly going to cost money.”

Contributions to Smith’s campaign came overwhelmingly from inside the state and largely from small-dollar donors clustered around Columbia. The average donation by 1,946 contributors in the most recent reporting period was $134.

“The support we’ve gotten from South Carolinians from all walks of life and all income levels has been extremely gratifying and humbling,” Smith said in a statement. “This campaign is powered by the people of South Carolina. And with the primary over, we’re starting to get more support from across the political spectrum.”

While avoiding a runoff, the Democratic nominee spent more than $644,000 during the most recent reporting period, leaving his campaign with only $127,663 in cash on hand.

That means Smith needs to raise a lot more, and fast, Knotts said.

“You look at the Republican (gubernatorial candidates), and they spent in the $2 million to $4 million range,” Knotts said. “Running a modern campaign that takes advantage of technology and a sophisticated get-out-the-vote strategy will require something in the seven figures, not the six figures. … And (he) will likely have to look to outside groups to bring in the money.”

Warren — who largely self-funded his campaign, contributing more than $3 million — had not filed his spending report as of early Tuesday night.

Catherine Templeton, who finished third in the five-way June 12 GOP primary and endorsed Warren for the runoff, drained all but $31,668 from her campaign’s coffers in its final months.

Templeton raised another $146,000 during that period to add to the more than $1 million in cash her campaign had on hand heading into the June 12 GOP primary. More than 87 percent of that money was raised from within the state, with most donated from contributors in Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Greenville, according to numbers disclosed Tuesday with the S.C. Ethics Commission.

In total, Templeton raised more than $3.7 million to try to unseat McMaster, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2014 and became governor in January 2017, when Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to join the Trump administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Templeton spent more than $900,000 on TV and digital ads and media production. That included a six-figure buy for a last-minute attack ad that ran a week from the primary. The 30-second spot targeted Warren’s opposition to abortion and gun control as too soft.

Templeton and Warren started firing shots at each other late in the primary in an attempt to win a spot facing McMaster in the June 26 GOP runoff.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who came in fourth in the GOP primary, had more than $42,000 cash on hand and raised $3,660 leading up to the primary. He spent $27,680 from April to June.

Greenville News

James Smith calls out Henry McMaster over Trump’s tariffs

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful James Smith criticized Gov. Henry McMaster Wednesday for not taking a more active role in opposing “job-killing” tariffs imposed by the Trump administration that Smith says would hurt the state’s economy.

“Job-killing tariffs are killing us,” Smith said during a campaign stop with running mate Mandy Powers Norrell at the Beacon Drive-In. “It will hurt our competitiveness. Years of efforts of previous governors are at risk.”

The state lawmaker from Columbia also stopped at Greer City Park where he and Norrell challenged the Republican governor to stand up against tariffs.

Smith said McMaster enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination for governor, but he won’t try to persuade the president to change his mind about tariffs that companies like BMW and Volvo in South Carolina have said could hurt their bottom line and kill jobs.

“It’s a question of leadership and a governor who will stand up and say they’re against job-killing tariffs,” Smith said. “As governor, I’ll be there to make sure we’re not 30th in business, that we address our roads, high utility rates, schools. We need a more competitive tax structure.”

Smith cited a CNBC news report Tuesday that ranks states for their economic climate based on workforce, infrastructure, cost of doing business, economy, quality of life, technology and innovation, education, cost of living, access to capital and business friendliness. Texas ranked first as having the best business climate, while nearby Georgia ranked seventh and North Carolina ninth. South Carolina was ranked 30th.

McMaster, who was at a Charleston business’s 30th anniversary event Wednesday, said through a spokesman he has been in close contact with the president and his administration about the tariffs and how they may affect South Carolina companies.

“A lot of these measures have been proposed, not implemented,” he said. “This is a work in progress. I understand what the president is trying to do. And I support that he wants to see we have fair trade around the country.”

McMaster added: “I can promise you all of us are doing all that we can to see that our businesses and industry remain strong and that we are doing all we can to see they are not hurt by these tariffs or any other actions.”

Smith also referred to a report by Reuters that automaker Volvo, which recently opened a $1.1 billion plant near Charleston, may cut back on the 4,000 jobs it promised because of its plans to export cars to China, which has imposed a 40 percent tariff on cars imported from the United States.

Tuesday, German automaker BMW stated its commitment to investing $600 million and adding 1,000 more jobs to its Spartanburg plant even as company officials have warned that tariffs could eventually affect jobs and sales down the line if recently imposed tariffs remain.

“I know BMW came out and said they stand by South Carolina, but (McMaster’s) silence on this issue has been deafening,” said Norrell, a Democratic state lawmaker from Lancaster. “But there’s not doubt our workers will be affected.”

She added: “(McMaster) says he has the ear of the president. But if his policy is affecting workers and can’t use that to improve the life of South Carolinians, then what good is it?”

Joyce Harrison of Spartanburg, a retired school district media specialist, said she came to the Beacon to tell Smith to make healthcare more affordable for all residents if he becomes governor. She said she thinks Smith has a good chance of winning in November.

“I’m hoping there are many people like me who are concerned about the direction our country has taken under the Trump administration,” Harrison said. “I hope we can return to more kindness and consideration for others. Our world needs to embrace rather than build walls.”

Powers Norrell sees bright, blue future for South Carolina

In mid-April, Democratic state Rep. James Smith and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers thought they scored a major victory in opening up South Carolina’s solar energy market.

But on what normally is a routine final approval, Smith’s H. 4421 — which would have lifted a 2 percent cap on the amount of net metered solar systems allowed — died on third reading by three votes.

Language in the measure also would have exempted solar arrays from property tax bills — triggering an argument by opponents that, under Article 10 of the state Constitution, such a move could only be approved by a two-thirds majority.

During a floor debate, Smith, an attorney, and one other House Democrat built a legal argument they hoped would salvage the cause. Her name was Mandy Powers Norrell.

“James found out the night before around 7 what was going to happen, and he called me. We came up with a strategy. He was going to make the procedural case and I was going to make the legal one,” Powers Norrell said.

Ultimately, the bill died. But in that moment, a political alliance was born. A month later, Smith named the Lancaster lawyer as his pick for lieutenant governor.

Those 11th-hour efforts to salvage H. 4421, Powers Norrell said, are an apt metaphor for their working relationship.

“It’s so much fun to collaborate with somebody who thinks like you. Even though we lost, it was a lot of fun to tag team,” she said. “He’s such a brilliant mind. The big thing with him is that he’s just so willing to put himself into the arena. So many people in life are crippled by this fear of failure that they won’t try to do great things, and he’s never intimated by that.”

Smith and Powers Norrell will spend the next five months convincing voters why Gov. Henry McMaster — who boasts close ties to President Trump — isn’t deserving of his own four-year term.

“I think we offer a very different feeling in our campaign than the other side does,” Powers Norrell said. “We’re talking more about the future than folks are accustomed to hearing from people running for office, and that’s a difference we make.”

The 44-year-old grew up in the shadow of Springs Cotton Mill, once the largest operation of its kind the world. Her father, Carl, went to work at the mill to help support the family, including his disabled wife, Barbara. Powers Norrell was their only child, and she wound up excelling her way through college, eventually earning a law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1997, where she graduated summa cum laude.

The mill closed in 2008, and Powers Norrell would file bankruptcy claims for many of her father’s co-workers.

“A lot of our communities in rural South Carolina were heavily steeped in manufacturing, and when that went overseas, a lot of them faced the same peril,” she said. “That’s where I’m from, is the rural part of the state, and it’s where I connect.”

Powers Norrell married Mitchell Norrell in March 1995. They have two children and attend First Baptist Church in Lancaster.

After falling short in a bid for the state Senate in 2008 — she lost to Mick Mulvaney, currently director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget — Powers Norrell won the 44th House district in 2012, coasting past two Republican contenders before running unopposed in 2016.

“My district is a pretty red district and I won as a Democrat, and I think the thing that helps me do that is the same thing that will help James win the governorship, and that’s relationships and our biography. They’ll trust our decisions, because the vast majority of things that come before anyone in government have no inherent ideology attached to them,” she said. “There’s no Republican or Democrat way to pay the rent. If they feel like they know you, I think you can win them over.”

Powers Norrell knows it will take crossover support from traditional Republicans to win the governor’s mansion, and says she has been encouraged new voters are there.

“The feeling is so different than it was 10 years ago when I ran for Senate. I would knock on doors and people would say, ‘You’re so nice, I wish I could vote for you but I can’t, because you’re a Democrat,’ but now people are very willing to listen, because they want something else.”


BRACK: Age, Trump will drive fall gubernatorial election

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who nabbed a primary runoff victory in an election much closer than expected, is 71. His Democratic opponent, longtime state Rep. James Smith of Columbia, is a generation younger at age 50.

In the months ahead, expect to hear both talking about experienced leadership, but in different ways.

McMaster will focus on South Carolina’s general successes and how it’s smart to keep the state’s coach when the state has low unemployment. Smith, who will benefit from the bruising done to McMaster by four GOP primary opponents, will question whether the state as a whole is really doing as well for everyone. He’ll likely make a case that it is time to change the coach to try new solutions, not keep someone who has been fighting the same ideological battles for decades.

“It’s in McMaster’s best interest to get James to focus on individual issues,” observed former Democratic state Sen. Phil Leventis of Sumter. “It’s in James’s best interest to try to focus on basically the almost two-decade rule of [Mark] Sanford, [Nikki] Haley and now McMaster that resulted in no measurable progress for the vast majority of people in South Carolina.”

Leventis said it is easy for the incumbent to point to job-laden successes like Boeing and Volvo during the campaign.

“Those are great – we’re happy to have them — but those are the exceptions, not the norms,” Leventis noted, adding Republican leadership had not effectively dealt with the state’s huge challenges in education, health care and poverty

Another observer suggested Smith would try to appeal to younger and independent voters by focusing on a new generation of ethical leadership with experience to get things done by working across the aisle – and without getting as hung up on old-timey ideology.

But the election could boil down to something much simpler than age depending on what’s happening nationally. It could become a referendum on President Donald Trump. If Trump, the most Teflon of presidents, weathers continuing scandals like a duck repels water, then McMaster’s ongoing reminders of his close ties to the president might pay off. But if Trump starts sinking under the weight of a special counsel’s enduring probe into Russian fiddling with the 2016 elections, McMaster’s ties to the president could turn sour at the polls.

“There was no policy discussion of any legitimacy n the Republican primary,” said GOP observer Chip Felkel of Greenville, who thought the linchpin for the eventual winner rested with Trump’s fate. “It was all about kissing his ring. The Democrats seemed to be more interested in policy. “

Felkel also said Trump’s tariffs on foreign goods could come home to roost by hurting South Carolina jobs.

“Trump’s policies are eventually going to affect South Carolina employment numbers when it comes to tariffs and the automotive and airline industries. I know Henry is Trump’s guy, but how is that helping South Carolina?”

Three other issues may drive voters in November:

Energy. McMaster and Smith agree a just-passed legislative rate cut for SCE&G ratepayers wasn’t enough because continues to subsidize the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. Smith may be able to capitalize on the issue by saying McMaster was part of the leadership that led to the debacle. Although Smith was a member of the legislature then, he was serving in the military in Afghanistan when the enabling legislation passed that caused the mess.

Corruption. A whiff of ongoing scandal still scents Columbia’s air. McMaster got beaten up in opponents’ ads in the primary that tied him to a campaign consultant he used for years who got caught in the investigation. This story line could validate Smith’s assertion that ethical leadership is needed and might appeal to anyone tired of good old boys in Columbia.

Health care. During the primary, Smith telegraphed a big campaign theme would be access to affordable health care – something that eludes thousands of South Carolina, in part, because the state’s GOP leaders refused to accept billions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid services. Recent ideological GOP attacks on abortion providers also could backfire.

State House Report

He could be your next SC governor. But can Smith avoid the same traps as other Dems?

While the two remaining Republican candidates for S.C. governor are preparing to debateWednesday, Democratic nominee James Smith will be out raising money.

Monday’s fundraiser, with the Conservation Voters Political Action Committee, is an effort to replenish Smith’s campaign war chest for November’s general election.

Raising money — a lot more money — is just one of the things the Columbia Democrat must do if he is to be elected South Carolina’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.

S.C. Democrats — a sometimes fractious group — also must unite behind Smith, while at the same time attracting new voters.

Smith will need to present S.C. voters with big, bold ideas about the state’s future, giving them a reason to take a chance on a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion for the first time in decades, political observers say.

“For a Democrat to win statewide in South Carolina, three things have to happen: You have to have a strong candidate. You have to have a weak Republican candidate, and then you have to have a favorable national environment,” said S.C. Democratic operative Tyler Jones.

“There’s a very big chance (Smith) has all three.”

‘This isn’t county council’

S.C. Republicans, of course, would disagree with that assessment.

But Democrats say they see unprecedented excitement building behind Smith’s campaign.

“Since the primary ended, James has been capitalizing on the excitement and the momentum that Tuesday offered by fundraising and continuing to talk to supporters from all over this state,” said campaign spokesperson Alyssa Miller. “We’ve seen an incredible uptick in our fundraising from folks who are just so excited, not only by the results from Tuesday but also about the optimism that James brings to this cycle.”

But that must translate into dollars.

Miller did not offer any specific numbers of Smith’s recent fundraising. But the Democrat will need a lot more money before S.C. voters head to the polls in November to buy ads and put volunteers on the ground in most, if not all, 46 S.C. counties.

“This isn’t county council. This isn’t even a state legislative race,” said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “This is a statewide contest, where it’s going to take some resources.”

Smith must raise between $3 million and $10 million to be competitive in November, some Democrats say.

“It’s hard to give a figure, but it’ll probably break records,” Jones said. “Republicans raise money in big chunks. As long as James can continue to grow his small dollar army, he will be able to compete with whoever the Republican is.”

Thus far, Smith has proven to be an adequate fundraiser, at best.

Before the June 12 Democratic primary, Smith raised about $1.1 million. The two Republicans in the June 26 runoff for the GOP nomination for governor raised seven times that much during the same time period.

Gov. Henry McMaster raised $4.4 million while Greenville businessman John Warren accumulated $3.3 million, a sum skewed by the fact that Warren gave his campaign $3 million.

“Republicans will always out-raise Democrats in the money race. It’s not even a race,” said Jaime Harrison, former chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, now associate chair of the Democratic National Committee. “They have a lot more big-money interests at stake.”

‘If he wants my help, he has it’

S.C. Democrats see the McMaster-Warren runoff as proof the S.C. Republican Party is in disarray.

“They can’t coalesce behind one candidate,” S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said Tuesday. “It shows a hell of a lot more of the disarray in the Republican Party than it does in the Democratic Party.”

Still, to grab the attention of undecided voters, independents and moderate Republicans — a fraction of the S.C. GOP that Democrats hope to pull over to Smith’s campaign — Democrats must change the way they talk to voters, observers say.

S.C. Democrats long have needed to change their tone to run more winnable campaigns, party chairman Robertson acknowledged Wednesday.

“I often say my mom is a liberal and my dad is a Democrat. My mom believes in rational, intelligent conversation … and my dad says, ‘Just beat the SOBs,’ ” Robertson said.

“Sometimes, we have to change the way we talk, change to whom we talk, change how we talk and change how we go after voters.”

Democrats are hopeful that Smith’s pick for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster, can do some of that talking.

This November is the first time the Democratic and GOP nominees for governor will appear on the ballot with a running mate/lieutenant governor, who the nominee has selected, on a combined ticket.

The hope is that running mate will help a candidate broaden his or her appeal to voters, bringing a different race, geography, gender or experience to the ticket.

Powers Norrell comes from rural Lancaster County, a contrast to Smith, who lives in the shadow of the University of South Carolina.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college and a daughter of mill workers — a story that Democrats hope could capture rural S.C. voters who voted for Trump in 2016.

“They are two of the best candidates we’ve had in a while,” Harrison said. “They will be the change we so desperately need.”

But first, the party must be united behind Smith.

Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble — who came in third in the Democratic primary — has endorsed Smith despite throwing repeated jabs at him on the campaign trail over gun control.

“He has my full endorsement, and if he wants my help, he has it,” Noble said via email.

However, as of Friday, Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis — who came in second in the Democratic primary — had not publicly said whether she will endorse Smith.

Willis did speak by phone with Smith after Tuesday’s primary, but Willis’ spokesman Les Braswell said Thursday the pair have not talked about an endorsement.

‘Ride the wave’

Smith has one thing going for him that twice unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, a state senator from Camden, said he did not have in 2010 and 2014 — a more favorable political climate.

“I had (Barack) Obama hanging above me. He wasn’t popular in this state,” the Kershaw Democrat said.

“When I ran (for governor in 2010), there was the largest Republican wave in the country. We’re seeing the opposite of that right now to some extent. He (Smith) can’t control it, but he has to capitalize on it.”

While Democrats talk about a “blue wave” of anti-Trump voters in November nationally, the president’s approval ratings remain relatively high in South Carolina.

The latest Winthrop Poll, in April, put Trump’s S.C. approval rating at 46 percent, up from 42 percent in February. Trump’s disapproval rating was 47 percent, down from 50 percent.

But recent upsets in red states since Trump took office have S.C. Democrats excited.

For instance, Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat in December, beating Roy Moore, the Trump-backed GOP candidate.

“When I was running, the wave was crashing on me,” Sheheen said. “In this election, the wave is breaking for James. But he has to be able to ride the wave.”

Smith can do that, Sheheen said, if he focuses on “kitchen table issues” and does not let national politics become a distraction.

“This is a different year, and there is really something reminiscent of ’98,” said Democratic operative Lachlan McIntosh, who worked on the 1998 campaign of Jim Hodges, the last Democrat elected governor of South Carolina.

“There is an energetic base of Democrats we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a special opportunity that doesn’t come around much.”

‘Outside of the box’

Hodges — coined the “education governor” — took a huge gamble in his 1998 run against then-Gov. David Beasley, a Republican.

Hodges proposed a lottery to help pay for college scholarships and improve S.C. public schools — a “brave and bold” proposal that won over Democrats and Republicans, McIntosh said.

“No one had ever done that before,” McIntosh said, adding, “James is going to have to find issues that attract people who don’t normally vote Democratic.”

Smith — who calls himself the state’s “next education governor” — says he has those bold ideas that can appeal across the aisle.

He says he will push legislation to lower college tuition rates — noting a proposal that Sheheen introduced this year to increase the state money given to each college for enrolling in-state students. In return, colleges would have to freeze tuition for a year.

For public schools, Smith has called for teacher raises.

“This is a special opportunity that doesn’t come around much,” McIntosh said.

“In politics, timing is everything. James has found himself in a good spot.”

What Smith must do

What state Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor, must do to win the Governor’s Mansion in November

1. Raise a lot more money. Smith raised $1.1 million for the Democratic primary. The top two Republicans raised seven times that much. Smith will need from $3 million to $10 mlllion to win in November, some say.

2. Unite his party while Republicans fight among themselves. Democrats are famously fractious. The second-place finisher in Tuesday’s primary, Marguerite Willis, has yet to endorse Smith. However, the GOP has yet to be able to select a candidate, and the GOP nominee who emerges may be weakened by a sometimes bitter primary and runoff.

3. Appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. Democrats hope some S.C. voters will see Smith as an Afghan war veteran, not a — shudder — Democrat. They also hope running mate state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell will be able to convince rural voters to cast a Democratic ballot.

4. Keep the race local while capturing the enthusiasm of a national “blue wave.” Focus his campaign on “kitchen table issues,” not national politics.

5. Sell a big idea. Smith talks about wanting to be the state’s “next education governor,” making college more affordable and giving raises to teachers. But is that big enough?

The State

Governor’s Races: Smith Romps in Dem Primary; McMaster, Warren Headed to Runoff in GOP Showdown

Defying polling that predicted a much closer race, longtime state Rep. James Smith earned a resounding victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for governor, defeating two challengers.

Meanwhile, incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster had a tougher go of things on the Republican side. He came out on top of a five-person GOP race, but failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote, and is now looking at a runoff in two weeks against ascendant Greenville businessman John Warren.

According to unofficial results as of 10:55 p.m., Smith, a combat veteran and 22-year member of the Legislature, had 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic race, while Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis had 27 percent and Charleston businessman and Democratic activist Phil Noble had 11 percent.

Meanwhile, for the GOP, McMaster had 44 percent of the vote, while Warren had just more than 25 percent. Catherine Templeton — long expected to be McMaster’s main challenger — ended up coming in third at 22 percent. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant was in a distant fourth with about 6 percent and Yancey McGill, the former lieutenant governor (and former Democrat) clocked in at 2 percent.

Energy was high at Smith’s victory party at Columbia’s 701 Whaley, where a loud, boisterous crowd gathered to greet the Democratic nominee and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell.

Looking ahead to the fall, Smith says he believes voters are ready to elect a Democratic governor in South Carolina for the first time in 20 years.

“It’s very, very, very important that we are successful,” Smith said, speaking with newspaper reporters just after his victory speech. “[Republicans] have had all the power, all the control, and everybody’s rightly dissatisfied with our roads, with the conditions of our schools, with the conditions of our prisons. People can look and maybe see that after two decades of total one-party control it has not served our state well.”

Smith’s blowout win came after recent polls in the race predicted a much closer contest. He said he was never overly worried about those polls.

“Honestly, both Mandy and I weren’t really concerned with the polls,” Smith said. “We really weren’t. I think what you can see is that [the polls] weren’t very reliable.”

Powers Norrell said she has felt the momentum building behind her and Smith’s ticket.

“There’s an energy in this campaign unlike I’ve ever felt in any campaign,” the third-term legislator said. “Everywhere we go, people are so excited. A lot of them have never voted before, but they are excited to vote in this campaign.”

In the GOP gubernatorial race, Warren, who gave more than $2 million of his own money to his campaign, clearly thinks he’s got a shot at McMaster in the coming runoff.

“Tonight, we have hope for the future of our state,” the Greenville businessman said, according to The Post and Courier. “A clear majority of Republicans voted against Henry McMaster’s failed leadership and voted for a new conservative leadership that [running mate] Pat [McKinney] and I are going to bring.”

McMaster was also a topic of conversation just outside the doors of 701 Whaley. As Smith’s victory party raged inside, state Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson noted the governor’s inability to get a majority in the first round of primary voting.

“You’ve got Hank McMaster that can’t get out of a damn primary,” Robertson said. “The [Republican Governors Association] has got to be scared s#!tless. Poor little Hank, I feel sorry for him.”


Landslide: State Rep. James Smith wins SC Democratic primary for governor

State Rep. James Smith claimed the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in a landslide Tuesday as he and his party try to reclaim the S.C. Governor’s Mansion for the first time in 20 years.

In a win for the Democratic Party’s establishment, Smith — a Columbia attorney and Afghanistan combat veteran — easily won enough votes to hold off his two primary opponents — Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble and Florence anti-trust attorney Marguerite Willis — and avoid a runoff.

In November, Smith will face the winner of a June 26 runoff between Gov. Henry McMaster of Columbia and Greenville’s John Warren.

Smith beamed inside 701 Whaley on Tuesday, the same building where he kicked off his campaign.

“I ask that you take the energy in this room tonight to your homes, to your workplace and to all of our communities,” Smith told the crowd. “I know as governor, our best days are ahead of us.”

Party favorite got boost early

Smith was the presumed front-runner in the Democratic race.

The 22-year S.C. House member announced his candidacy in October — well before Willis, who finished second in the primary, and Noble, who finished third. That gave Smith a lead in raising money and organizing a statewide door-knocking grassroots effort.

Smith, 50, also was able to lock in early key endorsements from Democratic heavy hitters, including former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the state’s senior member of Congress and the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.

Smith named S.C. House colleague Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster as his pick for lieutenant governor — a “real up-and-comer” in the S.C. Democratic Party, noted Winthrop University political scientist Karen Kedrowski. “She (Powers Norrell) … can really speak to the working class roots of the Democratic Party.”

Democrats hope Norrell can help Smith land moderate white voters in November, who may have voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“You’re going to see Mandy and James Smith bring voters to the Democratic Party that might not normally vote for a Democratic candidate,” said Trav Robertson, S.C. Democratic Party chairman.

Throughout his primary campaign, Smith ran as a progressive moderate, positioning himself for the November general election.

He was endorsed by conservation groups in the wake of a $9 billion nuclear debacle at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County. He also is supported by pro-choice groups. But he accepted that support with an eye toward the general election. “I don’t know anyone that is pro-abortion. It’s a question of people’s rights, fundamental rights,” Smith told The State in May.

Smith’s win illustrates Democrats’ desire to win the November general election, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “It shows that Democrats are fairly united behind a person that has the best chance of winning.

“He was a person who won this invisible primary, but then translated it into an actual primary.”

Swings and misses

Throughout the primary, Smith was not immune to swings from his opponents.

They included:

▪ Repeated hits from Noble, who tried to tie Smith to the National Rifle Association over Smith’s past “high” grades from the gun lobby’s Political Victory Fund. Smith — a combat veteran, who joined the military at age 37 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was awarded a Purple Heart after he was injured by an improvised explosive device — says he supports the Second Amendment but has called for “common sense” gun control legislation.

▪ An early campaign by the Republican Governor’s Association to slam Smith for one of his business ventures — The Congaree Group. That company has received lucrative government contracts since 2010, mostly from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide valet services for veterans who are treated at Veterans Administration hospitals. Smith’s status as a service-disabled veteran allowed him access to those federal contracts, reserved specifically for veteran-owned small businesses.

▪ Jabs in the Democrats’ last debate from Willis, who criticized Smith for having close relationships with former Republican lawmakers entangled in a State House corruption probe.

▪ Criticism from Noble and Willis that Smith’s two-decade-long tenure in the S.C. House did not produce any substantial legislation. Smith had countered that Democrats have little power in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Noble told reporters Tuesday that, while disappointed by his loss, he will endorse Smith. “Any Democrat is better than a Republican,” he said.

Willis did not respond to attempts for comment by press time.

Despite the hits, Smith was able to convince Democratic voters they should nominate a candidate who can work with both parties, Knotts said.

“He reminds me a lot of some of the Southern governors from the ’70s or ’80s — like (the late Gov.) Zell Miller in Georgia or (former Gov.) Jim Hunt in North Carolina — moderates who worked to build consensus, are pro-business and also pro-education.

“It’s a different approach.”

Forging ahead

Winning a November election in red state South Carolina will be a tough uphill climb for Smith.

South Carolina has not put a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion since 2002.

The party’s last attempt, in 2014, saw state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden lose by 14 points to then-Gov. Nikki Haley.

“It’s a really big hill” for Democrats to climb, Knotts said. “But it’s not impossible.”

With his primary win behind him — and roughly five months until the Nov. 6 general election — it is time for Smith to kick his campaign into high gear if he wants to compete in a red state, pundits say.

“He (Smith) can start to unite the party and start campaigning … two extra weeks while the Republicans are still infighting,” said Winthrop University’s Kedrowski. “That’s good for the (Democratic) party across the state.”

Kedrowski said the summer months are going to be crucial for Smith to raise money and get his name out to voters — particularly moderate Republicans — outside of the State House bubble.

“After Labor Day is when people start to pay more attention,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect much downtime (for Smith), especially given the long odds of a Democrat being elected governor.”

Looking at the McMaster-Warren runoff in two weeks, S.C. Democratic Chairman Robertson said the state’s GOP is in disarray, giving Democrats a chance to win in November. “They can’t coalesce behind one candidate.”

Smith brushed aside any notion that a Democrat can’t win the governor’s race in November.

“They said we couldn’t win in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Virginia. … I’m very confident in the ability to win in November.”

The State