COLUMBIA, S.C. — The two leading candidates for governor of South Carolina met for their first and only debate, sparring over abortion, COVID mandates, and the economy.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and Democrat Joe Cunningham took to the stage Wednesday night in Columbia for the hour-long event held by SCETV and The Charleston Post & Courier. The moderator explained that the libertarian candidate, Morgan Reeves, did not meet the debate organizers' qualifications to be included.
The debate began with a discussion about abortion, an issue Cunningham has attempted to use as a point of distinction between he and McMaster in campaign ads. Cunningham claimed that McMaster would be willing to outlaw all abortions with no exemptions.
"His position is the most egregious form of government overreach you could imagine," Cunningham said. "If the politicians are able to come into your doctor's offices, what could they not do?"
McMaster though, said no such bill is currently pending at the State House, and claimed that Cunningham wants a standard that could potentially allow abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks.
"That is six months that Roe [v. Wade] allowed abortions for any reason or no reason at all," McMaster said. "That is the radical position."
The discussion then turned to the economy, where McMaster touted the state's economic growth under his administration and his decision to have less restrictions on businesses during COVID. "We've got people working right now then we've ever had before we have more money in our trust funds, they're filled up," he said.
Cunningham said that he wants to eliminate the state income tax, with the revenue replaced in part with revenue collected from legalizing marijuana and sports gambling. "We can be that economic lighthouse for business that either want to grow or expand into South Carolina but we need to have new ideas and a new vision," Cunningham explained.
McMaster said he fought the Biden Administration over mask and vaccine mandates while Cunningham accused McMaster of mishandling parts of the pandemic. The two both agreed that teachers need to continue to get pay raises but differed on how to accomplish that goal.
McMaster is seeking a second elected term in office to go along with the two years he served after taking over for former Gov. Nikki Haley when she accepted a position in the Trump Administration in 2017. If he wins and serves out another four year term, he'd be the longest serving governor in state history.
Cunningham made a splash in state politics when he won the U.S. House race for the First Congressional District in 2018, becoming the first Democrat to win that seat in 40 years. He lost it in 2020 to current Congresswoman Nancy Mace. If he were to prevail, he'd be the first Democrat elected governor in the state since Jim Hodges in 1998.