COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, an early supporter of President Donald Trump, was forced into a runoff for the Republican gubernatorial nomination Tuesday.
McMaster was the top vote-getter in primary voting but failed to win the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff. He and Greenville businessman John Warren will face off in a second contest on June 26.
The winner will face longtime state Rep. James Smith in November. Smith won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday after leading the pack in fundraising, endorsements and name recognition, besting Charleston consultant Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.
The GOP vote tested the heft of Trump's endorsement in South Carolina, where McMaster became governor early last year following the departure of Nikki Haley to serve as U.N. ambassador. As lieutenant governor, McMaster was the nation's first statewide elected official to back Trump ahead of South Carolina's early presidential primary.
On Tuesday night, McMaster reminded his supporters of his alliance with the president as he stressed to voters that they shouldn't "change the coach" while the state is perched on the cusp of a new era of prosperity, a theme he has echoed throughout the campaign.
"We have the greatest team we've ever had," McMaster said, reminding a crowd of his backing from the president. "He's campaigning for me. That means he's campaigning for you."
With Haley's early departure, McMaster was elevated to the governorship he'd long sought when the president-elect cleared the path. Now, McMaster has had the last year and a half 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.
He's seeking a full term in the office that eluded him in 2010, when McMaster lost a four-way primary to Haley. He was subsequently elected lieutenant governor in 2014.
Elisabeth Boyle, a Greenville native and McMaster supporter, said she had backed McMaster's 2010 bid and felt he needed more time to accomplish the things he wanted to do for South Carolina.
"He's very down to earth, and he's likable," she said. "We need to let him finish what he's trying to do."
Warren, who only entered the race in February, served as a Marine and has largely self-funded his campaign, contributing more than $3 million. On Tuesday night, Warren told his supporters he expected McMaster to engage in negative campaigning during the runoff "because that's what career politicians do."
"I have been shot at before," Warren said. "I challenge Henry McMaster to come out of hiding, to answer tough questions in three debates over the next two weeks. The people of South Carolina deserve to see that Henry McMaster has no idea about our future."
If both candidates agree, a televised GOP runoff debate is planned for next week.
Shelly Haddon, a supporter of John Warren, said that the Greenville businessman's opposition to abortion won her over. But Haddon also said that she found the first-time candidate trustworthy, noting that she had wanted to back Templeton, the only female Republican gubernatorial candidate, but was turned off by her ability to go negative.
"He (Warren) stayed above it and is a straight shooter," Haddon said.