S.C. Lt. Gov Race Could Have Long-Term Impact

S.C. Lt. Gov Race Could Have Long-Term Impact
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With South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham each favored to win re-election in November, a lower-profile contest to become the next lieutenant governor is shaping up as one of the Palmetto State's most intriguing 2014 races.

In January, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (pictured) announced that he would not seek re-election, and is instead vying to become the College of Charleston’s next president.

Charleston businessman Pat McKinney, a longtime Haley confidant and member of the governor’s re-election finance team, announced earlier this year his candidacy to succeed McConnell. But McKinney may have some stiff competition in the Republican primary.

South Carolina GOP operative Mike Campbell -- the son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell --  previously ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and is mulling another bid for the state’s second highest office.   

“We’re definitely taking a look at it,” Campbell told RealClearPolitics. “I’m going to continue to talk to people over the next few weeks, and as long as I can get some business projects I’m working on to line up like they have been, we may well pull the trigger and do it.”

This race is shaping up to be one to watch for several reasons. 

First, it will be the last time that South Carolinians elect the state’s two top office holders separately. In 2012, voters approved a referendum mandating joint tickets whereby the gubernatorial candidate will select his or her running mate, beginning in the 2018 election.

The upcoming lieutenant governor’s race also is important because if Haley is re-elected as expected, she will be barred by term limits from running again in 2018. Whoever emerges from this year’s Republican lieutenant governor primary will be well-positioned to compete for the top job in an open election four years from now.

According to a poll commissioned by longtime South Carolina GOP operative Richard Quinn and obtained by RealClearPolitics, Campbell would enter the contest as a strong frontrunner against McKinney, though both men have a lot of work to do to build their name recognition across the state.

The poll of 400 likely Republican primary voters, which was conducted early last month, showed Campbell leading McKinney in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup by a margin of 28.3 percent to 9.0 percent.

A clear majority of those polled (60.8 percent), however, said that they were undecided.

Based in large part on his family lineage and previous statewide campaign, Campbell was known to 52.5 of respondents, who gave him an 18 percent/3 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, with 31.5 percent having no opinion.

Only 35.6 percent of likely voters had heard of McKinney, who has been campaigning for the job for months but has never held public office; 6.8 percent gave him a favorable rating and 2.3 percent an unfavorable one.

The Quinn-commissioned poll had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points. 

“Mike has a lot of residual name ID from the last time he ran for lieutenant governor, and of course, his last name is iconic in South Carolina, so he’d be a good candidate,” Quinn said of Campbell.

The lieutenant governor’s race in South Carolina is also notable because of the presidential-level implications it carries. Campbell was the state chairman for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign in South Carolina, where the former Arkansas governor finished a close second to eventual Republican nominee John McCain.

Huckabee is currently mulling another White House bid. And if he were to run again, South Carolina could again prove pivotal for the affable Southerner, who maintains a high level of popularity there. Campbell remains a close Huckabee ally, and if he were to win the lieutenant governorship, it could give the potential 2016 contender an early leg up in organizing in the first-in-the-South primary state.

Haley is not expected to endorse a candidate in the lieutenant governor’s race until after the primary, which takes place June 10.  

Campbell has until the March 30 filing deadline to decide whether to enter the race.

On the Democratic side of the ballot, state Rep. Bakari Sellers is the only declared candidate in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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