Smith/Norrell on Nov. ballot

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Gov. McMaster faces Warren in GOP runoff

By Hal Millard

Mandy Powers Norrell’s quest to become South Carolina’s lieutenant governor took a big step forward Tuesday, June 12, even though her name wasn’t on the Democratic primary ballot.
As final returns came in Tuesday night, gubernatorial candidate James Smith of Columbia, who announced Lancaster’s Norrell as his running mate last month, overwhelmed his two primary opponents, avoiding a runoff and moving the pair on to a November showdown with Republicans.
Gov. Henry McMaster led his four GOP primary challengers but was headed for a runoff, likely with John Warren of Greenville.
Political pundits and polls called for a likely runoff on the Democratic side, but Smith instead enjoyed a blowout win, buoyed on the campaign trail by his 44-year-old running mate.
According to unofficial returns at press time, Smith garnered 62 percent of the vote against his two rivals – Florence corporate-lawyer Marguerite Willis, who received 27 percent, and Charleston businessman Phil Noble, who received 11 percent.
With a couple hundred jubilant supporters in tow at a victory party Tuesday night, Norrell said, “I knew this was going to be a good night, but I didn’t know it would be this good.”
Celebration of Smith’s victory – and by extension, Norrell’s – took place at an event space called 701 Whaley. Fittingly, for the daughter of former Springs Mills employees and a former millworker herself, the space built in 1903 once served as the company store of the Granby and Pacific Mill villages in the Olympia community near downtown Columbia.
“Tonight is the night South Carolina took a step to new leadership,” said Smith, who credited Norrell for her help in the win and said she would be a worthy leader in her own right.
“Mandy, you have been a phenomenal running mate,” Smith said. “You have the strength, courage and leadership we need.”
Republican runoff
A hotly contested and crowded race between McMaster and four challengers will end in a June 26 runoff.
The top two vote-getters at press time were McMaster with 45 percent of the vote and Greenville businessman and Marine veteran John Warren with 25 percent.
Falling short were Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton with 22 percent of the vote, followed by Anderson pharmacist and current Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant with 6 percent, and Kingstree businessman and former lawmaker Yancey McGill with 2 percent.
McMaster, formerly lieutenant governor, is a longtime S.C. political mainstay who was installed as the state’s chief executive early last year when then-Gov. Nikki Haley was tabbed by President Donald Trump in the middle of her term to serve as U.N. ambassador.
McMaster, an early Trump supporter, was touted in a Trump tweet this past Saturday in what amounted to a tacit endorsement, despite the fact that both Warren and especially Templeton have tried hard to woo the state’s Trump supporters in their bids for office.
Through thick and thin, McMaster has carried the Trump mantle since becoming the first state politician to endorse and campaign for the would-be president in 2016 when many scoffed at his candidacy. McMaster also introduced Trump at his nomination coronation in 2016 at the Republican National Convention.
Warren, meantime, was a late entrant to the governor’s race and promptly began campaigning to pre-empt Templeton’s focus as the “outsider” candidate, despite the fact that she oversaw two different state agencies, albeit briefly, during the Haley administration as director of both Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and also worked as senior vice president at the State Ports Authority.
As a late entrant in the race, Warren spent about $3 million of his own money on the campaign. Much of that went into TV ads, which helped him move the needle in the race, allowing him to rise from single-digits in the polls to a serious contender to McMaster and Templeton.
Maintaining momentum
Norrell was not on the ballot Tuesday for lieutenant governor, but she will join Smith on a Nov. 6 joint ticket – the first in S.C. history for any political party.
If Smith should somehow defy odds and win that race, he would become the first Democratic governor in South Carolina since the election in 1998 of Lancaster-native Jim Hodges.
Until this year, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was elected independently of the governor, often creating party splits and occasional rancor between the two offices. A constitutional amendment in 2012, however, requires that the governor and lieutenant governor now run on the same ticket, beginning with the November 2018 general election.
Even if Smith falls short in November, Norrell is assured of returning to Columbia after winning her unopposed primary race Tuesday for the House District 44 seat she’s held since 2012. She faces no Republican opposition in November.
Norrell told The Lancaster News she “was a little afraid to believe” the campaign would win so handily, despite assurances from Smith, who felt a tide was coming.
“We were all at (James’s) house and everybody was celebrating, but I was a little nervous,” Norrell said.
“We were thinking it might (be a big win), just from the people we had talked to and the overwhelming response, but I knew I was in the weeds of the campaign, so I didn’t really want to trust that instinct,” Norrell said. “But James would say, ‘I think we’re going to get a resounding majority.’”
Norrell said the campaign would enjoy the night, and then get right back to work as soon as possible.
“We’re going to jump right into it, because the Republicans will be having a runoff,” she said. “So, we’re just going to be building on this momentum, because we have tremendous momentum right now. I think it would be foolish to take a breather.
“We’re not going to stop,” she said. “We’re going to keep pushing.”