More than 100,000 South Carolinians may have bought a pig in a poke in the recent GOP primary. They voted for Greenville businessman John Warren, a political neophyte who joined the state’s gubernatorial race just a few months back and who reportedly has pumped $3 million of his own money into winning.
He is, if you didn’t know, a Marine. That’s about all we really know about him, as he repeatedly says in television ads.
The term “pig in a poke” is an English idiom from the Middle Ages, a time when meat was often scarce. Tricksters would offer suckling pig in a closed bag to customers. Many times, however, the bag contained the meat of some other animal.
Warren obviously has the required skills to run a successful financial services business, coincidently named after his Marine unit. It remains to be seen whether those skills are enough to navigate as governor in a state paralyzed by challenges for education, health care, and infrastructure.
Warren, who will face Gov. Henry McMaster in a June 26 runoff, offers a big obstacle to McMaster’s desire to win a gubernatorial election outright. He took the office, you may remember, after former Gov. Nikki Haley resigned to become an ambassador in the Trump administration.
While McMaster shines when reminding voters he has Trump’s endorsement as much as Warren plays the Marine card, GOP voters these days may be more willing to give the new guy a chance than to cast their lot with someone who has been around for a long time. Just look to Trump’s election and the deflation of the old-time Republican Party into the Trumpian Party to understand that.
“Trump has a tremendous impact on South Carolina Republican primary politics,” said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “Loyalty to Trump has become one of the most important litmus tests for Republican primary voters.”
So McMaster, the first statewide official to endorse Trump when he was running for president, has that going for him. He benefited over the last year in raising lots of money and building a machine in what Knotts calls the “invisible primary.” Knotts said he expected McMaster, who won more than 155,000 votes in the primary, to win the runoff over the inexperienced Warren.
But Brad Warthen, former editorial page editor of The State newspaper in Columbia, isn’t so sure. An incumbent governor — even one who has been in office for a year and a half — should be stronger. For months, McMaster was pounded by four challengers.
“Telling everybody he [Trump] is your best buddy isn’t a sure road to success,” Warthen told Statehouse Report. “McMaster is in a remarkably weak position for an incumbent….”
“Everybody seems to be ganging up on him at this point. McMaster’s problems are his association with the Quinns [who are involved in a corruption case], his old-school image, the fact that he wasn’t elected to the position, and the possibility that at some point his slavish devotion to Trump — at times, the relationship seems to be all he can say about himself — could become an albatross for him.”
Two days after the primary was over, Warren picked up endorsements from two other anti-establishment Republicans who wanted to be governor — Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Catherine Templeton of Mt. Pleasant.
But is their support enough to carry Warren over the top? Probably not.
McMaster came out on top in 40 of 46 counties, including voter-rich Richland, Lexington, Charleston, York, and Horry counties. McMaster edged Warren in Spartanburg County. Templeton garnered more votes than McMaster in three small counties and Beaufort County. Bryant mostly was in single digits, except in his home county where he nailed 22 percent of the vote. Warren came out on top in two counties — narrowly in Pickens, but by a large margin in Greenville.
As they say in politics, everything in elections is about turnout. McMaster has the benefit on June 26 of a strong relationship with the president and a campaign organization in the works for months, if not years. Warren has the aura of a newbie, but many may be growing tired of how he trumpets his military service for personal gain.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.