BRACK:  Time will tell if governor’s running mate gamble pays off

Pamela Evette, flanked by Gov. Henry McMaster. Source: McMaster campaign video.

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher  |  Gov. Henry McMaster made a strategic political decision this week.  Whether it’s good or bad remains to be seen, but it certainly surprised the establishment in Columbia.

McMaster announced a political neophyte, Ohio native Pamela Evette – a Travelers Rest business executive who moved to South Carolina in 2005 – would be his running mate in next year’s gubernatorial race.

That is, if he wins the GOP party nomination.  Three other political animals – Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Kingstree and former agency head Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant (who also has never held elected office) – want to be the Republican standard bearer at the top of the 2018 ticket.

Last year before Donald Trump catapulted with no  political experience into the presidency, it would have been unthinkable for someone who was a heartbeat away from being governor to have no political experience.

But there’s a new normal spreading across the country’s political landscape where truth has become a casualty of daily prevarications woven out of whole cloth.

The reasons that McMaster is looking for a fresh face to be his lieutenant governor make sense:

  • He is looking for someone aligned with Trump to prove to voters, particularly those in the Upstate, that he embraces the political revolution that is underway, despite being a career politician. McMaster, you may remember, was the first statewide elected official in the country to endorse Trump.  Evette, CEO of a billion-dollar service business, has described herself as a “Trump girl.”
  • He’s looking for age balance on the gubernatorial ticket. Evette is two decades younger than McMaster.
  • He’s looking for gender balance. Evette’s addition to the ticket is an obvious attempt to declaw the aggressive Templeton.  It probably doesn’t hurt for some voters that Evette bears a passing resemblance to the state’s first female governor, current U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
  • He’s looking for some regional balance to mollify Upstate voters that he is their candidate. The move to add Evette is an attempt to thwart GOP voters from being attracted to Bryant, a conservative who sometimes seems to be trying to out-Trump McMaster.

And more than anything, having made the decision to go with someone new, the governor announced the fresh running mate early to erode a disadvantage of time.  Had he introduced Evette next summer, the campaign would have only had a few months for voters to get comfortable with her.  Now, the campaign has almost a year.  It is obviously hoping to get Evette out on the road so much that she feels like an old family friend by next June (primary) and November (general election).

The huge chink in the armor, however, of all of this grand political strategizing is the whole notion of experience.

Sure, Trump showed he could get elected with no experience.  But where are the national deals and big accomplishments, other than an appointment here and a flurry of bombast there?  The Congress has passed no major legislation for Trump to sign, racking up a plethora of failures.

In other words, all of the business experience in the world might not be that important if it is not balanced with some political experience, of which Evette admits she has none.

College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said political experience is beneficial to candidates.

“Bringing people together and coming up with solutions in government takes a very different skill set than in the private sector,” he observed.  “You have to build coalitions.  You have to get support from the public.

“Yes, there’s the management function of running government, but there’s also the legislative function a governor plays to be able to come up with solutions to problems and issues facing the state – and that doesn’t always translate from the private sector.”

So we will wait to see whether having a seasoned business executive with a billion-dollar company (sound familiar?) is attractive to voters here in 2018.  And we’ll watch whether the governor, a true master of sniffing the political winds, has made a smart strategic move, or a deadly gamble.

Have a comment?  Send to:  editor@charlestoncurrents.com

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