COLUMBIA - John Warren, the businessman who nearly bested South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster for the GOP nomination two years ago, is launching a political action committee that could ultimately serve as the springboard for another effort to oust the incumbent, should Warren opt to run again.
Warren, 41, said the political action committee would focus on several areas, among them developing a grassroots network "to really engage and create change, and not just attend meetings."
Warren said the group will look to recruit and support "conservative, capable and courageous" candidates for state House and Senate races. He added it would seek to make independent expenditures to further those campaigns, starting with this fall's general elections.
In planning stages for six months, Warren said, the effort is based on the "conservative reform movement" he posited during the 2018 campaign, when he said he was committed to creating such an organization "to advance conservative policy," had he been elected.
That year, Warren - a multi-millionaire who served in the Marines and went on to found a successful Greenville mortgage company - went from political anonymity to the second-place finisher in a four-way GOP gubernatorial primary, forcing McMaster into a contentious runoff. That sprint toward the nomination included a last-minute trip from President Donald Trump to campaign on behalf of McMaster, who as lieutenant governor had been the first statewide-elected politician in the country to back his 2016 White House bid.
The primary and its ensuing runoff tested the heft of Trump's endorsement in South Carolina, where McMaster became governor in early 2016 following Nikki Haley's departure to serve as U.N. ambassador. With Haley's early exit, McMaster was elevated to the governorship he'd long sought when the president-elect cleared his path.
In office for more than a year by 2018, McMaster ran as an unelected incumbent, touting economic development and championing issues aligned with the president's priorities, such as restricting funding for groups affiliated with abortions.
Entering the race just months before the primary, Warren finished second in a four-way contest, ultimately netting the endorsements of two Republican rivals and hitting McMaster on his ties to political consultants caught up in a wide-ranging Statehouse corruption probe. Warren also put more than $3 million of his own funds toward his coffers, ultimately losing the nomination by less than 8 percentage points.
With Republicans in control of South Carolina's Legislature, as well as the Governor's Mansion and all statewide-elected offices, Warren said Monday that new voices are needed within the GOP to move the state forward, recalling recent legislative stalemates.
"As a conservative Republican, I say this - the only party to really blame for stagnation is the Republican Party in South Carolina," he told AP. "So if things don't get done, it's because the Republican Party is failing to enact that, and that's why I think it's so important to have an outside conservative organization that actually wants to support the Republican platform and get these reforms through."
Warren said the "very well-funded" group would have a statewide presence and be headquartered in Greenville. Asked if the committee was a launch point for a 2022 effort of his own, Warren demurred on a future campaign but said he anticipated the group would have influence beyond November.
"I've made no decisions on 2022, but I think what is clear, I want to serve the people of South Carolina and right at this. moment, South Carolina's Conservative Future is the best way for me to do that."
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