Note: Story has been updated with the latest results. Greenville County data did not arrive until early Wednesday morning.
COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster is in a position to win the South Carolina Republican nomination for governor in a runoff against Greenville businessman John Warren after receiving a larger-than-expected share of support from voters in Tuesday’s primary.
McMaster was forecast to lead the five-candidate field, though not win the majority needed to avoid a runoff on June 26.
But with success in the GOP voter-rich Upstate, he nabbed 42.4 percent of the vote, a number that pundits think could make a runoff all but a formality for the veteran Columbia politician. McMaster won 39 of the state’s 46 counties.
Warren, a political newcomer, finished second at 27.7 percent in a campaign that he self-financed with $3 million. He won his home county, Greenville, by a wide margin that cut into his deficit with the governor. He also won neighoring Pickens County.
Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton placed a disappointing third at 21.4 percent after she and a third-party group backing her spent more than $5 million in her first election.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson received 6.7 percent, while former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, who switched parties to run for governor, finished last with 1.7 percent.
The Republican governor’s race came down between a political insider versus a pair of outsiders, who attracted nearly half of the vote on Tuesday. But Templeton’s support could be split among those who see McMaster as a direct connection to the White House and Warren as an ex-Marine ready to shakeup Columbia.
“I just wanted a change,” said Marygrace Hollingsworth, a health care sales professional from Columbia who voted for Warren. “I didn’t want anyone from the good ol’ boys.”
Warren told supporters in Greenville after reaching the runoff: “Tonight, we have hope for the future of our state. A clear majority of Republicans voted against Henry McMaster’s failed leadership and voted for a new conservative leadership that Pat and I are going to bring.”
But after struggling to gain traction to give him a large edge in the race, McMaster peaked at the right time while collecting support from voters who have now seen his name on a statewide ballot for the fifth time in 16 years.
McMaster made the race, where candidates couldn’t stop talking about their admiration for the president, about how he was Donald Trump’s choice. He and a pro-McMaster group used clips of the president’s 25-minute speech at a Greenville fundraiser last fall to create ads and videos.
The governor mentioned often how he visited the White House in debates and stump speeches. The president tweeted his support for McMaster on Saturday shortly before heading to Singapore for the summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.
“He’s endorsed by Trump,” said Carol McKenzie, a Chester voter who went with McMaster. “I think right now we should just stay the course.”
While his rivals tried to unsettle voters with concerns about waste in Columbia, the governor remained positive about the state’s successes under his and Nikki Haley’s administrations, especially on jobs and economic investment.
“Anyone who does not understand where we stand now in this county and the world is missing something very important,” McMaster told supporters late Tuesday. “We’re on the edge on the greatest prosperity we’ve ever had.”
As he wrapped up his speech, the crowd chanted, “Four more years!”