I think one of Columbia’s own could well emerge as the Democratic nominee for governor next year — but not Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Instead, I see a path for state Sen. Mia McLeod.
While that prediction may come as a surprise to many, McLeod seems to me to just want it more than Benjamin (who I think is more interested in federal office and/or appointment) or other potential Democratic candidates. And that can matter as voters — especially primary voters — want to get behind someone they feel is in it to win it for their party.
As for others whose names are being floated and promoted, it’s hard to see how two incumbents who couldn’t hold the seats they had in the 2020 elections (former congressman Joe Cunningham and former state representative Mandy Powers Norrell) go from those defeats to being the Democratic nominee for governor in 2022. Is that a good look for the Dems?
While there are several other potential Democratic candidates, McLeod is more experienced than most and as well-known as any. I think she could be the one to emerge from the field. The last two Democratic gubernatorial nominees, Vincent Sheheen and James Smith, were great guys and experienced politicians with fine records of public service. But during their campaigns, neither showed the fire in the belly needed to succeed in a state where their party last won the governor’s race in the prior century, Jim Hodges in 1998.
To have a chance in next year’s governor’s race, Democrats need a candidate who will aggressively take the battle to their opponent, not just politely offer position papers and political platitudes.
Enter Sen. Mia McLeod. Whether you agree with McLeod or not (and I have done both in this column over the years), anyone who follows state and local politics knows she is strong in her opinions and not shy about voicing them. She is also a good public speaker, as well as a candidate who is both energetic and photogenic.
Did you see her give the Democratic Party response to Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address a few weeks ago? This is not a woman who is afraid to mix it up. She challenged the governor directly and repeatedly on a variety of issues, but did so without being rude or off-putting.
Listening to her, I felt McLeod was not so much giving her party’s response to the State of the State, as she was giving her first speech in the 2022 race for governor.
And if that is the case, I think this could be a significant factor as well: McLeod is a Black female at a time when Black female politicians are on the rise.
Just as Kamala Harris became the nation’s first woman and first African-American (and Asian-American) to be elected vice president, there is similar history to be made in South Carolina. No, Mia McLeod could not be South Carolina’s first woman governor, as Nikki Haley blazed that trail and deserves full credit for doing so. Similarly, Haley made history as the first person of Indian descent to be governor. Further, those of us of a certain age will recall that Nancy Stevenson shook up the state way back in 1978 when she was elected lieutenant governor, the first woman to hold statewide office in South Carolina.
As for the general election, make no mistake: McLeod would be the underdog against McMaster, who has won four statewide campaigns.
But if nominated, McLeod would have the chance to be both the first African American and the first African American woman to serve as governor of South Carolina. That would be truly historic, and voters often get excited about being a part of making history.
Roll it all together and that’s the path I see for Sen. Mia McLeod to be the Democratic nominee for governor next year.
Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.