About 10 executives from a major Midwestern power company sat around a dining table at the S.C. Governor‚Äôs Mansion in September, talking with Gov. Henry McMaster about the possible sale of the state-owned Santee Cooper utility.
But in the middle of the talks about the multibillion-dollar utility, two English bulldogs ‚ÄĒ McMaster‚Äôs Little Mac and his foster dog, Winston ‚ÄĒ started to growl at each other under the table.
Without saying a word, the 71-year-old Richland Republican left his chair and dove under the table. ‚ÄúHe goes under the table and comes up, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in his suit, with a bulldog under each arm,‚ÄĚ said Mike Couick, president of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
McMaster took the dogs away. When he returned, it was as if nothing had happened. ‚ÄúHe was nonplussed, so everybody went back to talking,‚ÄĚ Couick recalled.
In November, S.C. voters will vote on whether they want McMaster or Democrat James Smith in the Governor‚Äôs Mansion over the next four years.
Substantive issues divide two Columbians.
Their love of dogs ‚ÄĒ whether McMaster‚Äôs Mac or Smith‚Äôs Cayman and Laffey ‚ÄĒ does not.
But what does it say about McMaster that he has had a lifelong love of English bulldogs? Or that Smith has a goldendoodle ‚ÄĒ a mix of poodle and golden retriever ‚ÄĒ and … well … a mutt?
It may say a lot.
Like bulldogs, originally bred to cling to their goal at all costs, McMaster single-mindedly has pursued the Governor‚Äôs Mansion for 30 years.
Well, goldendoodles are ferociously friendly, ‚Äúhappy-go-lucky‚ÄĚ and have become very popular, said Amy Lane, founder of Goldendoodle Association of North America.
Smith‚Äôs daughter, Shannon, periodically has to remind her mother, Kirkland, that Cayman, a white miniature goldendoodle, is ‚Äútechnically‚ÄĚ her dog, Kirkland Smith jokes.
A year ago, the Smith family had practiced scuba diving in a nearby pool enough times that they were ready for the real deal in the Cayman Islands.
Shannon, not so much.
‚ÄúI wanted her to … do something she had not done before,‚ÄĚ Kirkland Smith said. ‚ÄúShe (Shannon) said, ‚ÄėI‚Äôm OK. I‚Äôm doing this for the puppy. I‚Äôm doing this for the puppy.‚Äô ‚Äú
The 30-pound, curly-haired pup since has been adopted by the entire Smith family and is a regular sight around the Rosewood neighborhood where they live.
Goldendoodles are in demand in the U.S. these days.
‚Äú(Former Vice President) Joe Biden‚Äôs son has gotten two from me,‚ÄĚ said Lane of the Goldendoodle Association. ‚ÄúAll you have to do now is open up a catalog and I bet you see a goldendoodle.‚ÄĚ
As for their other dog, Laffey, the Smith family is not sure what his DNA is made up of, aside from being part Carolina Dog and another part wild.
He is named for the USS Laffey, a World War II destroyer on which Smith‚Äôs grandfather served. While a student at The Citadel, Thomas Smith, the Smiths‚Äô 22-year-old son, would drive by the ship, now part of the Patriot‚Äôs Point Naval and Maritime Museum, almost every weekend, sparking Laffey‚Äôs name.
Laffey has become a well-traveled member of the Smith family, rivaling Thomas Smith‚Äôs father, who for the past several months has been hopping from county to county on the campaign trail.
‚ÄúAnyone who loves a dog, cat or pet, they are a part of the family,‚ÄĚ Smith said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no question they add a lot of love and levity.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWith dogs and children … a lot of times you just can‚Äôt buy that type of entertainment,‚ÄĚ said Kirkland Smith.
Still, Cayman and Laffey have yet to befriend Teddy Ham Lincoln ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúLinky‚ÄĚ for short ‚ÄĒ who belongs to the family of Lancaster state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, Smith‚Äôs lieutenant governor running mate.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs super sweet. But he‚Äôs got his cat friends,‚ÄĚ Powers Norrell said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a cat dog, not so much a dog dog.‚ÄĚ
As a child, McMaster grew up with five bulldogs. He said his first memory in life is crawling to the porch and riding atop the family‚Äôs bulldog, playfully biting it on the back of the neck and getting a mouthful of hair.
The governor and his wife, Peggy, are on their fifth bulldog. The canines typically live eight to 10 years.
When bulldog No. 4, Boots, died after a battle with lymphatic cancer, McMaster said he knew he could not replace him with just another dog.
Boots had risen to celebrity status, appearing with McMaster in campaign ads. He was the star of McMaster‚Äôs successful 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor, his tongue flapping idly in ads as McMaster described himself as ‚ÄúSouth Carolina‚Äôs watchdog.‚ÄĚ
Then came Little Mac, or ‚ÄúLil‚Äô Mac‚ÄĚ for short, whose debut on Twitter went viral with thousands of views.
Little Mac ‚ÄĒ the ‚Äúprettiest little dog in the whole wide world,‚ÄĚ says McMaster ‚ÄĒ is named after the governor‚Äôs father-in-law.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs like a member of the family, and he‚Äôs part of the personality of the place,‚ÄĚ McMaster said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs strong, yet gentle. Determined. … Just a big ball of love and happiness.‚ÄĚ
Governor‚Äôs Mansion coordinator Karen Campbell said McMaster ‚Äúis like a 14-year-old boy with that dog.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHenry‚Äôs two (favorite) things, besides his family, is the dog and his guitar,‚ÄĚ Campbell said. ‚ÄúHis dog and his guitar helps him back out of the day.‚ÄĚ
McMaster said the 52-pound pooch will be featured in his next campaign ad.
‚ÄúHis role will be to win the race, of course,‚ÄĚ McMaster joked.
Loyal and tenacious with a gentle disposition are how political observers describe McMaster and Mac. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre both funny … and they‚Äôre both stubborn,‚ÄĚ said McMaster‚Äôs running mate Pamela Evette, who shares McMaster‚Äôs fondness for dogs.
For her part, Evette has a 1-year-old goldendoodle, Flynn. Her husband owns an Irish setter and her daughter, Amanda, has a long-haired dachshund.
Flynn and Little Mac have yet to meet. But Evette said her 11-year-old son, Jackson, has been pushing hard for a play date.
The English bulldog‚Äôs history is a checkered one, said Shelly Pyle of the Columbia Kennel Club.
The bulldog ‚ÄĒ the fourth most popular breed in the United States ‚ÄĒ originally was used in ‚Äúbullbaiting,‚ÄĚ either for sport or to subdue an animal for slaughter. Its undershot jaw enabled it to grab a bull and clamp down, and hang on until the end, according to the Kennel Club.
By 1835, England had stopped bullbaiting and domesticated the breed, which became ‚Äúthe gentleman‚Äôs dog,‚ÄĚ said Patricia Ropp, vice president of the Bulldog Club of America.
‚ÄúThey have this pacific and dignified demeanor, and regal appearance because they‚Äôll arch their neck and hold their head up high,‚ÄĚ Ropp said.
Today‚Äôs bulldogs, she said, are sweet-natured and affectionate.
‚ÄúThe first time I met Little Mac … I was wearing a new pair of shoes, and he kept pulling on my heel, as if to say, ‚ÄėHey, (look) down here. I‚Äôm way more fun to pet than to talk to that guy (the governor),‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Evette said.