The race to be state’s No. 2 executive is getting a candidate with strong ties to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.
Charleston developer Pat McKinney plans to announce Monday that he will seek the GOP nomination for the job of lieutenant governor, a post currently held by Republican Glenn McConnell. Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers of Bamberg also plans to run.
McKinney, a partner in the company responsible for turning Kiawah Island into a major high-end beach destination, has a close relationship with Republican Haley. Haley and McConnell, a former state Senate leader from Charleston, have not always gotten along, though supporters insist they are on good terms.
Political observers said a Haley-McKinney team could preview 2018, when the S.C. governor and lieutenant governor will start running on the same ticket, as the president and vice president do.
McKinney, a 63-year-old father of three, is on Haley’s re-election finance team, a position he also held in Haley’s 2010 campaign for governor. McKinney also is on the board of Haley’s foundation, and the governor appointed him to the State Ports Authority.
McKinney also led a political group with ties to then-Gov. Mark Sanford that bought $400,000 in ads in support of Haley in 2010, advertising credited with helping jump-start the then-state representative’s Republican primary bid for governor.
McKinney declined to discuss his candidacy Friday, saying he would answer questions on Monday.
Haley’s campaign said the Lexington Republican did not have a role in McKinney’s decision to run for lieutenant governor.
“Gov. Haley is staying out of the lieutenant governor’s race, but she always thinks it’s wonderful when great people choose to get involved with their government, and Pat and Pam McKinney are most definitely great people and great friends,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
Having a governor and lieutenant governor “philosophically aligned” is important, said Chad Walldorf, a former Sanford deputy whom Haley appointed chairman of the state Board of Economic Advisors.
“I have seen up close when a governor and lieutenant governor are not on same page,” Walldorf said, referring to Sanford and then-Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. “It would be exciting to have a true partnership. ... He could be a surrogate for the governor and help in the State House and in the Senate,” where the lieutenant governor presides.
Political newcomer McKinney sought to work in public service after retiring in 2006 and working on Haley’s transition team after her 2010 election was a catalyst for his decision to seek statewide office, said Walldorf, who has contributed $3,500 to McKinney’s campaign.
McKinney went through a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 but said Friday “everything looks good.”
McConnell has an edge over McKinney in name recognition, Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan said. Still, Haley remains popular among most Republicans and could boost McKinney, especially if he talks about working together with the governor, Buchanan said.
“That may be what the candidate wants people to think,” McConnell campaign consultant Richard Quinn said. “But Gov. Haley has praised Lt. Gov. McConnell’s service and his work with the aging.”
McConnell, who was elevated to lieutenant governor from Senate president pro tem when Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in 2012, takes Haley at her word that she will remain on the sidelines, Quinn said.
McConnell’s campaign raised $255,561 in the latest quarter, though all but $850 of that came from transferring money from his Senate campaign, according to S.C. Ethics Commission filings. McConnell has another $175,671 in his Senate account that he could transfer with the permission of donors.
McKinney raised $516,646 in the quarter ending Sept. 30, according to filings. Nearly half of that money came from a $245,000 bank loan.
Kiawah Partners, which McKinney partially owned, was sold in June for an estimated $400 million.
Quinn said he is not surprised McKinney raised $272,000 from contributors in his first round of fundraising.
“He’s a rich developer who knows a lot of rich people,” Quinn said. “When the campaign begins next year, we’ll have all the resources we need to win.”
Sellers, the only Democrat to say he will run for the post, raised $100,565 in the quarter – his first since announcing his plans to run.
“I hope this race is not about who you know,” he said. “I want a race that brings people together.”