Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod has ended his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, endorsing state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, for the job.
McLeod, 37, said he and Sheheen had similar ideas for the state, and that both continuing campaigns would be counterproductive.
"The end goal is a new generation of leadership to step forward," McLeod said. "I don't believe our window is that wide or that long. It has to happen now.
"The last thing I want is a divisive primary to cost us a general election."
McLeod is the first Democrat to exit the race and leaves four candidates: attorney and former lobbyist Dwight Drake, state Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston, Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and Sheheen.
Republican state Sen. Larry Grooms dropped out of the Republican gubernatorial race last month, leaving four candidates remaining.
Sheheen praised McLeod's focus on asking government to work on behalf of state residents and his skill in delivering a stump speech.
"He has been an important conscience on the campaign trail," Sheheen said.
Both McLeod and Sheheen emphasized the importance of developing young Democratic leadership, but said there was no generational divide among Democrats.
Sheheen is 38. The other three gubernatorial candidates are all older than 60.
McLeod said fundraising was not a factor in his decision, and that he has no plans now to enter another race.
McLeod had $366,805 on hand, including $100,000 he loaned to himself - second-most among Democrats - according to the most recent state campaign finance reports. Sheheen had $749,000 on hand, while Drake had $315,948, Ford $41,327 and Rex $28,647.
McLeod said he had not decided what he would do with the money, quipping he thought about taking a trip to Argentina - a dig at Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and his disappearance last year to the South American nation.
State law limits how candidates may spend unused campaign funds, but McLeod could return the money or give money to another candidate, subject to state limits.
Drake praised McLeod's candidacy, while also saying McLeod's exit makes him the only candidate of either party who does not currently hold an elected office.
"Mullins was a worthy opponent and brought a needed outside perspective to this race," Drake said.
While McLeod said he does not plan to run for any other office this year, he said he was not going away.
"As long as South Carolina is near first in unemployment and last in education," he said, "you will continue to hear from me."