COLUMBIA, S.C. — When Steve Bannon receives an award at The Citadel this week, he’ll be in the company of three gubernatorial hopefuls who’d love his backing – or, at the very least, not his opposition – in next year’s race.

The former White House strategist will be in South Carolina on Friday for The Citadel Republican Society’s Patriot dinner, where he’ll be honored with the Nathan Hale Patriot Award. In 2015, the group gave Bannon’s former boss, now-President Donald Trump, the award.

Bannon hasn’t made an endorsement in South Carolina’s race, but his presence is being watched closely, given the results of another state-level race in which he played a role. In Alabama, Bannon backed conservative firebrand and eventual winner Roy Moore in a GOP primary to fill Jeff Sessions’ U.S. Senate seat.

Working with Great America PAC, Bannon has made it his mission to elect pro-Trump Republicans to the U.S. Senate, taking on Republican incumbents in several states.

In South Carolina, Trump is backing Gov. Henry McMaster. The then-lieutenant governor shocked establishment GOP circles when he backed Trump’s candidacy early last year, a gamble that paid off when Trump picked Nikki Haley as U.N. Ambassador, clearing McMaster’s path to the governorship.

Bannon is being introduced by Catherine Templeton, a top challenger to McMaster who has nearly matched the incumbent in fundraising and has known Bannon since she was courted by the Trump administration for a Labor Department position.

Last week, Bannon’s Breitbart News site ran side-by-side photos of the two, linking to radio comments in which Templeton called Bannon “brilliant” and “the voice of the rest of us.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson accused her of “hunting for votes in the darkest corners of South Carolina,” saying the candidate would “play to white nationalism and a divided country every chance she gets.”

Templeton, who ran state health and labor departments under Gov. Nikki Haley, has framed herself as an establishment-challenging outsider beholden to no interest groups.

In a radio interview last month, Templeton called the criticism of her ties to Bannon “hypocritical” and “a marker of liberal outrage for not getting their way.”

“Steve Bannon is doing for the nation what I have been doing for South Carolina, and we aren’t going to back down because it makes the big government liberals or the self-dealing establishment mad,” she told The Associated Press ahead of the event.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, another gubernatorial hopeful, has purchased several tables at the event and said Bannon’s assessment of the need for a purge of establishment power is right-on.

“Steve Bannon understands that the silent majority of Americans that propelled President Trump to victory are fed up with the governing elite in Washington and in state capitols like Columbia,” Bryant told AP.


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard

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MEG KINNARD
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