President Donald Trump isn’t letting a loss in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate race scare him off from Southern politics.
Trump was wading back in on Monday, hoping for a different outcome in South Carolina’s gubernatorial contest by appearing at a private fundraiser for one of his earliest backers, Gov. Henry McMaster. The governor is seeking re-election next year.
Trump’s appearance for McMaster closely follows the defeat of Alabama Republican Sen. Luther Strange, Trump’s chosen candidate to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Strange lost a GOP runoff in late September to conservative Roy Moore.
Some in heavily Republican South Carolina see similarities between McMaster and Strange, who have impeccable Republican credentials.
Strange fought same-sex marriage as Alabama attorney general. McMaster headed South Carolina’s GOP for years, was its top prosecutor and was elected lieutenant governor in 2014. Both men were elevated to their current offices by appointment. Strange was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the seat vacated by Sessions. McMaster became governor when Trump picked then-Gov. Nikki Haley to be his U.N. ambassador.
Strange and McMaster took political risks to support Trump’s presidential candidacy. And Trump, known for rewarding loyalty, has backed their candidacies.
But Strange lost the nomination to Moore, who was twice removed as Alabama Supreme Court chief justice. The first removal was for defying a federal judge’s order to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building. He was elected again but was permanently suspended after a judicial discipline panel ruled he urged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. Moore was propelled by his support from evangelical voters across the mostly white, Christian-dominated state where voters have repeatedly embraced outsiders who campaign on embracing God and rebuffing authority.
McMaster, although he is the incumbent, isn’t receiving political deference: several Republicans are challenging him in the primary. His most formidable opponent thus far is Catherine Templeton, an anti-union attorney who served Haley as head of the state’s labor and public health departments.
The Trump administration tried to woo Templeton to Washington with a slot at the Department of Labor, but Templeton passed. She has amassed a campaign war chest nearly commensurate to McMaster’s. Both are nearing $2 million cash on hand.
Some South Carolina political analysts question whether McMaster, about to enter his fourth decade in politics, may be relying too heavily on Trump’s support to boost his 2018 election chances. Chad Walldorf, a businessman who served in former Gov. Mark Sanford’s administration, said he sees the parallels with Alabama.
“I respect loyalty, but it seems that Trump is again misreading the situation on the ground, getting behind the establishment candidate who was not elected to his position, running against a credible agent of change who’s garnering more significant grassroots support,” he said, referring to Templeton. “At least from the voter standpoint, it seems to me that folks eager for change are eagerly jumping on the Templeton bandwagon.”
Superville reported from Washington.
Source: Associated Press