Prominent Republicans Begin Bid To Replace Haley In 2018

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Phillip Stucky Political Reporter
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President-elect Donald Trump nominated South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations last week, prompting several high-profile Republican lawmakers to begin the process of announcing their candidacies for the top post.

Haley was originally under consideration for secretary of state, according to the New York Times, but after meeting with Trump in Trump Tower, she accepted the position as ambassador on Nov. 23.

Haley is a daughter of Indian immigrants, and came to power as governor of South Carolina in 2010, earning 51 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Vincent A. Sheheen. Haley beat Sheheen again in 2014, this time with nearly 56 percent of the vote, while Sheheen only earned 42 percent.

South Carolina requires the lieutenant governor to step into the position through the end of Haley’s term in 2019, but doesn’t require the new governor to find someone else to fill the role of lieutenant governor. It is most likely that no one will be selected to fill that role. President of the State Senate Hugh Leatherman would be the next to take the office if current Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster decides to push the matter.

Technically, Leatherman could be installed as the next lieutenant governor, but he currently leads the highly influential Senate finance committee, along with several other panels that oversee state spending, according to The Post and Courier. If Leatherman doesn’t want the position, and McMaster insists on filling the position, he could simply resign his post as president of the Senate, essentially leaving the state Senate to decide which member would be the next lieutenant governor.

If McMasters doesn’t fill the seat, it would be the seventh time there was no one filling the post of lieutenant governor since 1879. The maximum amount of time the seat was left empty was two years, when then-Senate President Edgar Brown turned down the role to stay in the Senate in 1965.

The most well-known possible ticket for the 2018 gubernatorial election is Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who could announce their joint bid for the top two posts as early as December, according to The Post and Courier.

Gowdy first won his seat in the U.S. Congress in 2010, and has effectively campaigned for reelection every two years, earning just over 62 percent in the 2016 election season over Democratic challenger Chris Fedalei.

Gowdy is chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and made news in recent months during his contentious interview with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her actions as secretary of state during the attack, and FBI Director James Comey for recommending Clinton not be charged with the possession of classified materials. Gowdy also serves on the Ethics Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Gowdy hasn’t confirmed the rumors about running with Scott, and is unlikely to want to give up his committee assignments to pursue the office of lieutenant governor.

Scott became the first black senator from South Carolina when he was appointed by Haley to fill Sen. Jim DeMint’s term in 2013. Scott later won his seat in the 2014 special election with 61 percent of the vote. He currently serves on the Special Committee on Aging, as well as the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, and he Chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Housing Transportation, and Community Development.

Scott recently won re-election for a new six year term in 2016, making it unclear whether or not Scott would be willing to pursue the highest office in the state of South Carolina. Scott won re-election by a wide majority, earning 62 percent of the vote according to Ballotpedia.

The other prime contender for the 2018 gubernatorial race is current Lt. Gov. McMaster himself. McMaster ran for U.S. Senate in 1986, but lost to Democratic incumbent Ernest Hollings. McMaster then lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1990. He subsequently served as attorney general for two terms, before losing to Haley in the 2010 Republican primary.

McMaster had accomplished little to advance his name recognition since 2010, but 2016 was a banner year for the first elected official to openly endorse then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.

July found the lieutenant governor making Trump’s introduction speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. McMaster also campaigned heavily with Trump during stops in South Carolina, introducing the president-elect several times at rallies and other events.

“You know, we’ve got a saying in the South that says it’s not the dog in the fight that’s important, it’s the fight in the dog that’s important,” McMaster said at a rally, according to the Washington Post. “Well this dog’s got plenty of fight — and it’s gonna take some fighting.”

McMaster was chairman of the Republican Party in the state from 1993 to 2002, according to Heavy.com.

“Today is indeed a great day for South Carolina. In selecting Governor Nikki Haley to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, President-Elect Donald Trump has again demonstrated his determination to make America greater than ever before. Governor Haley will be an inspiration to all who believe in the American dream, at home and around the world,” McMaster wrote on Facebook, voicing his support of Haley’s nomination to the U.N.

“South Carolina is bursting with talent, and today we swell with pride that one of our daughters is preparing to step into history on the world stage. Mrs. McMaster joins me in offering our heartiest congratulations.”

There is currently little speculation about who the Democrats can field for the 2018 governor race, but perennial Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen is sure to launch a bid. The South Carolina lawyer was voted on the “12 Democratic Legislators to Watch” list by Governing Magazine in June 2011, according to Ballotpedia. Sheheen currently serves as state senator, and serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, education committee, finance committee, Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, and General committee.

Sheheen lost the gubernatorial race to Haley both in 2010 and in 2014, earning a close 47 percent and 42 percent respectively. Going into the 2018 season, the young senator will put up a fight against power duo Scott and Gowdy.

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