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