South Carolina

Questions raised about John Warren’s political future after he sells his company stake

Greenville businessman and 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Warren is going to run for elected office again.

The retired Marine infantry officer publicized Monday that in August he sold his majority stake in his company — Lima One Capital, a mortgage finance company named after his call sign in Iraq — a move that quickly raised suspicion of what he will do next.

As a political neophyte, Warren came within 7 percentage points of beating veteran politician Gov. Henry McMaster in a 2018 primary runoff. Warren had already stepped down as CEO during his run for governor.

Warren, who entered the governor’s race late, said it didn’t surprise him that he did so well. It surprised him that he lost. “We had a great message. People are tired of career politicians in general.”

But what office Warren, 40, plans to run for next is yet to be determined.

In a phone call with The State Wednesday, Warren remained incredibly mum about what his future plans will entail.

He said he will not run for office in 2020, then capped the interview saying announcements could be made in the coming weeks, or coming months on the political front. He said he and his wife, Courtney, plan to pursue other passions, including helping to raise capital for startups, helping veterans transition into the private sector and philanthropy.

Warren declined to say what price he fetched for his share in Lima One, adding only that he was “very happy with the sale price.”

However, whatever the sale price was could be enough to launch another self-funded campaign, this time with a little experience. During his run for governor, Warren pumped more than $2 million of his own money into his campaign.

“Everything is on the table,” Warren told The State. “But we have not decided to run any races as of today.”

Warren said he has “definitely” ruled out a run for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and will not run for a State House seat.

“In my entire life, I’ve always looked at where I can have the most impact,” Warren said. “For me, personally, I don’t think I can have the most impact” in the South Carolina General Assembly.

But Warren is not ruling out another go at incumbent McMaster, who is up for re-election in 2022. McMaster found himself calling in President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence last year to rally voters after Warren finished second in the five-way race — that included a former state agency chief and lieutenant governor — and then received 46% in the runoff.

Running a campaign in South Carolina against any incumbent — take, for example longtime U.S. Sens. Fritz Hollings and Strom Thurmond — is no easy feat, said Katon Dawson, a former S.C. GOP chairman.

“You have to be patient because timing is everything in politics,” Dawson said. “It’s really hard to beat an incumbent. You’ve got to do something really wrong as an incumbent to get beat. It is so hard to get elected here when you first run because it’s so mean, it’s personal.”

But a mistake incumbents could make is to dismiss losers, Dawson said.

“Warren’s a competitor. He didn’t like losing,” he said. “I always tell people, ‘Look out when you run against the losers. They don’t quit.’ “

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
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