COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With Gov. Nikki Haley tapped to be President-elect Donald Trump's Ambassador to the United Nations, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster is set to become the 117th Governor of South Carolina if Haley is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Haley leaving the Palmetto State to head to Washington DC will leave the governor's chair vacated. According to state law, McMaster will be sitting in Haley's seat in January 2017.
McMaster has been huddling with advisors in his office for much of Wednesday afternoon. They ordered up lunch but other than the written statement did not come out to speak.
Political experts said Henry McMaster will likely end up being the big winner in this game of political dominoes. In fact, one said McMaster played the game of politics beautifully.
McMaster's path to the governor's office has been a long and twisting one. The 69-year-old Columbia native has been eying the role for many years. In 2010, he lost the Republican Party primary to Hale. During the campaign, he immediately endorsed Haley and campaigned for her all the way to an Election Day victory against Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
McMaster left the public sector for a brief period and worked with the University of South Carolina School of Law until he successfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 against Rep. Bakari Sellers.
The lieutenant governor used his role to endorse Donald Trump in the South Carolina Republican Primary -- becoming one of the first national establishment Republicans to back the brash businessman's campaign for the White House.
Robert Cahaly, a senior strategist with the Atlanta-based Trafalgar Group said that McMaster's endorsement really injected a lot of credibility into Trump's campaign. He helped lead Trump to victory in South Carolina's primary -- and stood behind Trump as he declared victory -- and has kept in contact with Trump's team ever since. In fact, Amanda Loveday with N-P Strategy said that, yes, Trump is getting a good nominee in Haley, but she believes that Trump may have nominated Haley to free up the governorship to McMaster, who, by all accounts, has aspired to be governor.
Both experts said that they believe McMaster will likely seek reelection to a full term as governor in 2018. We are also told that there's guarded optimism that he's someone who is going to work with the legislature more than both Governor Haley and Governor Mark Sanford.
"There's a feeling among a lot of legislators that they would like to have someone who is more of a partner with them. At the same time, there's a feeling among the public that they want to see somebody who has some of the Haley-movement Conservative ambition. And so I think that what McMaster represents is, he can bridge that gap," Cahaly said.
A few days ago when it appeared McMaster might be under consideration for a role in the Trump administration, we asked him about his wishes to lead the state as opposed to taking a federal job.
"I'm not particularly excited about going to Washington or any other place, I like South Carolina, but I want to do all I can to help," McMaster said.
McMaster had always seemed to eye the governor's mansion as his next stop. While never outright confirming it, McMaster appeared to be contemplating a second run as soon as Haley's term ended in 2018.
With Haley's ascension to a federal government role, McMaster will fill out the rest of Haley's term.
McMaster released a statement regarding Haley's new gig.
"Today is indeed a great day for South Carolina. In selecting Governor Nikki Haley to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, President-elect Donald Trump has again demonstrated his determination to make America greater than ever before," McMaster said. "Governor Haley will be an inspiration to all who believe in the American dream, at home and around the world. South Carolina is bursting with talent, and today we swell with pride that one of our daughters is preparing to step into history on the world stage. Mrs. McMaster joins me in offering our heartiest congratulations."