In South Carolina, a political newcomer campaigns with ease
NEWBERRY, S.C. (AP) — Pamela Evette’s venture to be South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor is her first run for office, but those who’ve watched her campaign as part of the state’s first joint GOP gubernatorial ticket say you’d never know it.
The Greenville businesswoman’s name was largely unknown to the state’s voters when Gov. Henry McMaster picked her as his running mate nearly a year ago. In selecting Evette, McMaster has said he knew he was choosing a teammate who could help him achieve goals like tax reform and navigate an array of other issues with lawmakers, who hold most of the power in state government.
Evette frequently talks about how she and McMaster balance each other out, in far more than gender or political experience. She has a mind for business and numbers, she says, while he’s the attorney and former prosecutor.
This is the first year South Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor run together on a joint ticket, as opposed to running separately, a process that, at times, has produced two officeholders from different political parties. The Associated Press has spent time with both campaigns , to see how they approach this new way of electing the state’s two top offices.
During a day on the trail in which the AP was given an exclusive look, Evette started with a Columbia news conference with McMaster and Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, announcing the launch of a coalition of educators in support of their campaign. Then Evette headed to the state headquarters of the Republican Party, taking a spin through offices where volunteers were making calls to drum up support for Republican candidates across the state.
“There is no substitute for getting out and talking to people and asking for their votes,” she said to volunteers during a stop at the phone-banking suite. Noting the importance of outreach at the grassroots level, “Some people have never been asked,” she said.
McMaster and Evette do some joint events but largely campaign separately, seeing it as a way both to cover more ground and balance their other duties. Evette travels with campaign staff and her lifelong best friend, Sonja Milisic, who drives Evette’s black SUV up and down Interstate 26 from her home base of Greenville. Staying in touch with her husband David, operations director of the payroll company they run together, Evette leafs through work-related spreadsheets and campaign documents prepping her for upcoming events. Staff updates Evette’s social media accounts with images from her stops around the state.
On Thursday, Evette headed from Columbia back up toward Greenville, where McMaster and state Rep. James Smith would hold their final debate that night. On the way she made a stop in Newberry, where Mayor Foster Senn and former state GOP Chairman Chad Connelly took the businesswoman on a tour of a half-dozen new shops along a revitalized Main Street corridor.
“She is very comfortable with people,” Connelly said, as Evette visited with shop owners and learned about their burgeoning business ventures. “She relates to everybody.”
Evette - who with her husband grew Quality Business Solutions from a small outfit based in their home to operating in dozens of states - shared her story with businessowners who also started small.
“That’s the same thing we try to do,” Evette told the owner of a personalization business who said she tries to only contract with other South Carolina-based businesses. “I hope you double in size by the time I come back.”
Stopping for lunch at Steelhorse Smokehouse, Evette greeted supporters gathered to meet her, sharing with them her commitment to dive right into the political world she’s still getting to know.
“This is new to me,” Evette told them. “I’m a fresh set of eyes.”
Newberry County Republican Party Chairwoman Charm Altman said she feels the political newcomer has been embraced in part on her own merits, in part because of McMaster’s popularity.
“Our people love Henry,” Altman said, of the longtime prosecutor and former GOP chairman. “She was an unknown, but they’ve embraced her. He chose her, and she chose him.”
Connelly, who stays closely plugged in to South Carolina’s GOP circles, said he’s fielded a number of calls from voters who have been impressed by Evette’s fresh perspective and are excited about the energy they hope she’ll bring to state government.
“People can say, ‘I can easily vote for her because she understands what I’m going through,’” Connelly said. “Like never before, people are looking for authenticity. They don’t want the same old, same old. They want something real.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP .
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