After Wednesday night’s debate, the two remaining Republican candidates for governor made their differences abundantly clear: Gov. Henry McMaster wants potential voters to accept his experience, while John Warren pushed for political change and a stronger governor’s role.
The debate sponsored by SCETV and the Charleston Post and Courier at the Newberry Opera House was the only chance for both runoff candidates to square off before next week’s vote.
McMaster was forced into the runoff after receiving 42 percent of the vote in last week’s primary, falling short of the majority needed. Warren came in second with 28 percent of the vote. In his opening statement Wednesday, Warren noted 58 percent of Republican voters chose someone other than the incumbent.
“What they want is a new conservative reform movement,” he said. “And what that movement represents is a group of conservatives across the state that want to bring solutions to our complex problems. Because we have a lot.”
McMaster pointed to economic growth that has continued since he became governor early last year, arguing the state should emphasize the positive to recruit new potential businesses. He rarely laid out any new initiatives, focusing instead on actions his administration has taken or pledges already made, such as vetoing any utility reform bills that do not prevent ratepayers from further paying off the ill-fated V.C. Summer nuclear expansion.
The governor also tried to use his experience against Warren at several points. When the businessman and political newcomer said ratepayers would not still be paying for the terminated project had he been governor, McMaster snipped “You’d have had to been governor 20 years ago when those laws were passed. You blaming me for those laws?”
When Warren vowed to pass conservative reforms and even fight the Republican-controlled legislature to pass them, McMaster challenged how he would do that on a practical level. “That’s not the way to get things done,” he insisted. “The governor must go to the legislature in order to work with the legislature. Politics is the art of addition and not the art of subtraction.”
Warren vowed to even run candidates against Senate President Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, considered the most powerful lawmaker in Columbia due to his simultaneous positions controlling the budget and setting the Senate floor debate. Previous governor Nikki Haley tried a similar tactic in 2014, but the would-be challenger lost. Warren hit McMaster for backing Leatherman in the race.
Both candidates linked themselves with President Donald Trump, with McMaster noting he was the first elected official to back Trump and Warren insisting his outsider status put him closer to Trump’s status during the 2016 election.
“Ultimately, my supporters have a lot of Donald Trump supporters,” Warren said. “Donald Trump has about a 90 percent approval here in South Carolina (among Republicans). If all his supporters supported Henry McMaster, he wouldn’t be on this stage right now. He wouldn’t have gotten 42 percent of the vote.”