COLUMBIA, S.C.— South Carolina voters are finally getting their chance to weigh in as voting began Tuesday for, with a hotly contested governor's race at the top of the ticket.
The Republican primary vote is a test for the heft of the endorsement of President Trump, who is backing Gov. Henry McMaster. As lieutenant governor, McMaster was the nation's first statewide elected official to announce his support for Mr. Trump ahead of South Carolina's early presidential primary. When he took office, Mr. Trump selected then-Gov. Nikki Haley as his U.N. Ambassador, allowing McMaster to ascend to the state's top job.
Now, McMaster — who finished third behind Haley in a four-way GOP governor primary in 2010 — is running for a full term on his own merit. For the past year and a half, he's been able to develop the mantle of an incumbent, tallying up economic-development announcements and championing issues aligned with the president's priorities, such as clamping down on "sanctuary cities" and restricting funding for groups affiliated with abortions. South Carolina has no "sanctuary cities."
In that pursuit he's drawn four GOP challengers, including Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and Yancey McGill, a former Democratic state senator who briefly served as lieutenant governor.
But the race's two other candidates have both positioned themselves as outsiders, banking on voters' desire to elect political newcomers. Catherine Templeton twice served in Haley's administration but has never pursued elected office. John Warren, a Marine and businessman from Greenville, is new to politics entirely. Templeton has essentially matched McMaster in fundraising, while Warren has contributed more than $3 million toward his own effort.
On the Democratic side, voters are also faced with a choice between political experience and newcomer perspective. Afghanistan veteran and longtime state Rep. James Smith is the front-runner, spending 22 years in the South Carolina House before stepping aside for a run for governor. Charleston consultant Phil Noble has proposed "big, bold and audacious ideas" for South Carolina, including doubling teacher pay while putting strict accountably goals in place to weed out poor teachers.
Florence attorney Marguerite Willis, who has said she was driven into the race by "the racist, sexist president of the United States," has argued that a woman is needed to take on the good-old-boy network and fight for better lives for women and the poor.
There are also primaries in some of South Carolina's seven congressional districts, including for Republican U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Tom Rice. Two Republican statewide officeholders, Attorney General Alan Wilson and Secretary of State Mark Hammond, also face primary challengers.
There were no immediate problems as voting began at 7 a.m. Tuesday, said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the South Carolina Elections Commission.
Polls are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. In races where candidates don't secure more than 50 percent of votes cast, runoff elections of the top two vote-getters will be held June 26.