Your SC politics briefing

Welcome to your weekly South Carolina politics briefing, a newsletter curated by The State’s politics and government team.

The 2024 presidential contest has officially started in the Palmetto State.

On Feb. 15, former SC Gov. Nikki Haley will launch her presidential campaign at a stop in Charleston, the first high-profile Republican to announce their campaign against former President Donald Trump, who announced his bid back in 2022.

Few details of her campaign announcement have been released. But we know Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador, is planning stops in early-voting state Iowa shortly after.

US Sen. Tim Scott, a possible 2024 contender, has not announced his plans. He’ll launch a listening tour this month, with his first stop in Charleston — the day after Haley’s announcement.

Meanwhile, Trump has already hit the campaign trial.

Trump took over the SC State House last week to roll out his leadership team, which includes Gov. Henry McMaster, a few congressmen, former state lawmaker and US attorney Peter McCoy and former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

“Never before in the history of the South Carolina Republican primary has a presidential candidate received this much support this early in the game,” US Rep. Russell Fry told an invite-only crowd.

Only a small number of SC elected officials joined Trump’s announcement, with most saying they want to wait and see how the field shapes up.

Read more: Fact check: Trump makes false claims in SC about EVs as industry to invest billions in state

Read more: Trump makes surprise visit to West Columbia restaurant during SC campaign trip

Watch: Daily Show interviews Trump supporters

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the South Carolina Statehouse, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, second from left, look on. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the South Carolina Statehouse, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, second from left, look on. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Inside Mia McLeod’s gov campaign

SC Sen. Mia McLeod’s exit from the SC Democratic Party received a lot of eyebrows when it happened last month, but it also raised questions about whether she took her bid for governor seriously and how much the party did to promote her.

The announcement that she was leaving the party, timed to the opening day of the 2023 legislative session for maximum attention, railed against what she said was the Democrats’ insistence on running white men for the governor’s office, and losing time and time again.

We wanted to figure out exactly what led up to her exit, and whether the party was actually going through some internal turmoil. McLeod declined to speak with us for this story. But she did go on a friendly radio show to talk about the party.

“I have receipts and all kinds of information that I have not shared publicly, showing they were very intentional about keeping my primary on the (down low) because they didn’t want people to know a Black woman was running,” McLeod said. “They didn’t want Black voters to be engaged because it was counterproductive to the success of their chosen candidate.”

In reality, McLeod, like her primary opponent Joe Cunningham, was never going to win the governor’s office.

South Carolina is a historically red state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 2006.

Plus, it’s tough to beat an incumbent and one with such high name ID, such as Gov. Henry McMaster.

A handful of senior Democratic Party leaders have been critical of McLeod’s move, mentioning her campaign lacked the resources to mount a serious campaign and said the senator failed to do the actual ground work that it takes to run.

“(McLeod) lost. She’s not a good candidate, she’s M.I.A. in the Senate, and she was M.I.A. in her gubernatorial race,” a state representative told us. “Now she wants to blame everyone but herself. It’s time for some self-reflection.”

It’s unclear whether McLeod rejoins the party. She’s still allowed to caucus with Senate Democrats.

On the radio show, McLeod said she was undecided whether she’ll seek reelection to the Senate in 2024.

FILE -State Sen. Mia McLeod, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party Black Caucus’ ”Sunday Dinner” on Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. At least some of the five South Carolina Democrats seeking their party’s gubernatorial nomination are expected to debate, just more than a week before the state’s primary elections.(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)
FILE -State Sen. Mia McLeod, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party Black Caucus’ ”Sunday Dinner” on Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. At least some of the five South Carolina Democrats seeking their party’s gubernatorial nomination are expected to debate, just more than a week before the state’s primary elections.(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

Buzz Bites

Hope Derrick, US Rep. Jim Clyburn’s longtime communications director in DC, is retiring after 23 years, POLITICO reports. Brianna Frias has been named her successor.

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, was recognized as the longest-serving active state senator in the US last week. And at the end of his current term in 2024, Setzler will achieve another milestone by becoming the longest-serving state senator in South Carolina’s history, bypassing Marion Gressette, who spent 47 years in the upper chamber.

Drew McKissick, chairman of the SC Republican Party since May 2017, was named co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

SC Senate voted 28-15 to approve legislation that would create a school voucher program, allowing up 15,000 students get $6,000 a year in state dollars to pay for private-school tuition and other costs.

SC House, with a few Democrats, passed legislation to criminalize fentanyl trafficking, the Post and Courier reports.

Bakari Sellers, who represents the family of Lason Butler, who died at the Richland County jail last February and whose death was ruled a homicide by the county coroner, said he now wants the U. Department of Justice to conduct its own review into the jail and county leadership.

The SC Senate Corrections and Penology Committee approved a bill that would shield the identities of the companies that dispense the drug cocktail used to execute people on death row, the Associated Press reports.

Following the VC Summer debacle, the SC House adopted legislation that seeks to protect utility employees from retribution if they report wrongdoing by their employer to the Office of Regulatory Staff. The bill passed 114-0.

Anthony Padgett, president and CEO of South Carolina ETV and Public Radio, is leaving March 3 to join WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio.

An estimated 300,000 South Carolina Medicaid recipients could lose their health coverage over the next year as the the state agency that administers Medicaid begins reviewing recipients’ eligibility.

South Carolina’s attorney general has asked the state’s high court to reconsider its ruling striking down the state’s six-week abortion ban.

New South Carolina Superintendent Ellen Weaver wants lawmakers to spend $100 million to use as incentives for innovation in public schools, including $25 million for teachers to work in schools with the “highest needs.”

Ellen Weaver speaks after winning the election for South Carolina Superintendent of education during a celebration at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center in Columbia on Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2022.
Ellen Weaver speaks after winning the election for South Carolina Superintendent of education during a celebration at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center in Columbia on Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2022.

Mark your calendar

Feb. 2/3/4

Democratic National Committee meets to decide presidential primary calendar

Feb. 8

Legislature holds vote on SC Supreme Court opening, USC board trustees

Feb. 10

Possible end date of Alex Murdaugh double-murder trial

Feb. 15

Nikki Haley launches 2024 presidential bid

Feb. 16

Sen. Tim Scott starts listening tour in Charleston, then heads to Iowa

March 13

SC House begins budget debate

March 18

Palmetto Family Council holds presidential forum in North Charleston

March 20-24

SC House goes on furlough

April 10-14

SC House goes on furlough

S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, presides over the beginning of the legislative session in the South Carolina House on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
S.C. House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, presides over the beginning of the legislative session in the South Carolina House on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Before we adjourn

Alex Murdaugh was facing a mountain of financial pressure prior to the deaths of his wife and son.

Now, Judge Clifton Newman must decide whether some of that pressure, or all of it, should be shared with a Colleton County jury, who so far has been dismissed from the courtroom as witnesses detail the hours and days leading up to Maggie and Paul’s deaths.

Murdaugh’s double-murder trial continues in Colleton County.

This week, the jury has heard from a handful of witnesses, including two of Paul Murdaugh’s friends who said they have “100%” identified Murdaugh’s voice being on a video taken on Paul’s phone before he and Maggie were murdered in 2021.

So far, all of the financial testimony has been away from the jury, including testimony from Murdaugh’s former law firm CFO and his longtime best friend, Chris Wilson.

The trial is slated to run until Feb. 10, though lawyers and the judge have indicated more weeks are likely to be added.

You can follow us for updates by clicking here.

Alex Murdaugh leans his head down while Chris Wilson, trial attorney, tears up while questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters during a hearing in the middle of the double-murder trial of Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Pool
Alex Murdaugh leans his head down while Chris Wilson, trial attorney, tears up while questioned by prosecutor Creighton Waters during a hearing in the middle of the double-murder trial of Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post and Courier/Pool

Pulling the newsletter together this week was Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter), senior editor of the The State’s politics and state government team. You can keep up with her on Twitter and send her tips on Twitter at @MaayanSchechter or by email mschechter@thestate.com.

To stay on top of South Carolina politics and election news, you can chat with us on Facebook, email us tips and follow our stories at scpolitics.com.