State Republicans turned toward November on Wednesday, gathering to pledge their support a day after settling a rough-and-tumble gubernatorial primary.
But with the nomination of state Rep. Nikki Haley, a protege of Gov. Mark Sanford, the question is will moderate Republicans get on board or abandon ship for Democratic nominee state Sen. Vincent Sheheen?
Standing with the employees of Columbia printing and promotional firm R.L. Bryan Co., Sheheen's message was not subtle: Business is standing behind him. Robert Royall, who served as commerce secretary for Republican Gov. David Beasley, said he would help raise money for Sheheen. The S.C. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Democrat in the primary and said Tuesday it would back him this fall.
But Republicans are already closing ranks, and the addition of former gubernatorial rival and Attorney General Henry McMaster to Haley's campaign is intended to reach out to moderates and independents concerned Haley might continue the acrimony between the Legislature and executive branch begun by Sanford.
"Through my years at the port and Commerce and working as a banker for many years, I look at the race through economic eyes," Royall said. "Right now, we've got to have a unifier, a leader who understands government, how it functions. Vincent is that person. He is a very smart, young, energetic legislator. The state needs a moderate-type leader like him right now."
Royall, who was an early Sheheen contributor, did not criticize Haley, saying he does not know much about her.
"I've known the Sheheen family for 50 years. They've all been strong public servants. Vincent clearly has that quality, too," Royall said.
Haley has struggled to raise money so far, and according to the most recent campaign finance reports, raised a little more than $867,000 while Sheheen raised $1.36 million. U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett outraised Haley during the two-week runoff, according to figures supplied by the campaigns, even though Haley was an overwhelming favorite to win the nomination after the June 8 primary. Campaign manager Tim Pearson said Haley would hire a professional fundraiser for the general election.
But observers said that while creating a "Republicans for Sheheen" campaign is Politics 101, the effort will require leadership and sustained fundraising to have an impact. Trey Walker, McMaster's campaign director and former S.C. GOP executive director, said 1998's crossover effort against Beasley was successful only because of the involvement of video poker money and scorned, experienced former Beasley staffers.
"There are going to be people in both parties who are unhappy with the results," Walker said. "But in this economy, with what's going on, I don't believe there is that kind of funding."
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