By Andrew Shain

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster endorsed Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday.

McMaster -- a former state attorney general, U.S. attorney and S.C. GOP chairman -- is the highest-ranking state politician to endorse a 2016 candidate. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, is the only other statewide politician to endorse a White House hopeful. He is backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The endorsement comes as a bit of surprise since McMaster represents the establishment in the state party. Much of the state's establishment base has endorsed Bush in the GOP race after backing Graham, who pulled out of the race last month.

Trump, who has run as the anti-politician-in-chief, holds a large lead in S.C. polls. Bush is fourth.

McMaster also is expected to run for governor in 2018. He lost to Gov. Nikki Haley in the 2010 primary.

"He is a man of accomplishment and speaks the truth in words everyone can understand, instills confidence in the people about our country's bright future, and reflects and believes in the strength and determination necessary for success," McMaster said in a statement. "These qualities -- and his quiet compassion for those in need -- are essential to 'making America great again.' "

Haley, who has criticized Trump's combative campaigning, did not give a timetable for an endorsement Thursday, saying she does not need a long time to decide.

"I don't work like that where I plan really far ahead," the governor told reporters. "It's usually once I make a decision, I go with it."

Former state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, is backing Trump, saying he favored the New York billionaire from the moment that he entered the race because he's a straight talker.

Three GOP members of the S.C. congressional delegation, including Graham, have endorsed 2016 hopefuls.

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, is backing U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, has endorsed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

South Carolina holds its Republican presidential primary on Feb. 20 after Iowa and New Hampshire.

(c)2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)