Politics & Government

Winners and losers from the GOP governor's race debate

SC Republican candidates governor, from left, Lt Gov Kevin Bryant, Yancey McGill, John Warren, Catherine Templeton and Gov Henry McMaster, debate at Clemson University on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.
SC Republican candidates governor, from left, Lt Gov Kevin Bryant, Yancey McGill, John Warren, Catherine Templeton and Gov Henry McMaster, debate at Clemson University on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. AP

The State asked a pair of S.C. political scientists for their assessments of Tuesday's Republican governor's race debate.

The debate featured all four of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster's challengers: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former state Sen. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg, Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant and John Warren of Greenville.

Here’s what The Citadel's Scott Buchanan and the College of Charleston's Gibbs Knotts said about the candidates' performances:

Best line or moment

Buchanan: Best line of the night: Kevin Bryant's line that while watching the Democratic gubernatorial debate, 'I saw so much socialism, it would make Bernie Sanders blush.'

"Best moment of the night was Catherine Templeton's explanation of her troubled pregnancy and her decision not to abort. That was a powerful moment."

Knotts: "John Warren compared the South Carolina DOT’s approach to fixing roads to the way his two year old son plays whack-a-mole at Chuck E. Cheese's: 'I have a two year old. I take him to Chuck E Cheese's. He likes to play whack-a-mole. The way our state tackles the roads problem is like playing whack a mole.'

"I like this line because it helped Warren with what he admitted was one of his weaknesses: he can appear a bit stiff. It showed a human side and was also a criticism of a South Carolina agency that is very unpopular, especially here in Charleston.

Worst line or moment

Buchanan: "Worst lines: Catherine Templeton trying to shoehorn in 'Buzzsaw' and 'Snakes in the Swamp' into every other comment/response she had. Whenever she did, Templeton's comments sounded canned and prepared. Runner-up: John Warren's comment about needing an iWatch to remember to smile.

"Worst moment: Templeton invoking Nikki Haley's name constantly, while also trying to portray herself as an outsider yet citing her experience in state government. All of this undercut Templeton's argument that she is an outsider. Templeton's lack of a substantive answer on the Greenwood tuberculosis question made her appear weak as well."

Knotts: "I thought the worst line was when John Warren was asked about putting millions of dollars of his own money into his campaign part of his response was, 'Just like Donald Trump, I cannot be bought.' Given Trump’s business entanglements and the ongoing Mueller investigation, this seemed like a risky comparison. It might work in the primary, but could come back to haunt him in the general election if he becomes the nominee. "

Who won and why

Buchanan: "In terms of citing legislative experience, that goes to Kevin Bryant. He had the most substance in terms of citing specifics. Overall though, Henry McMaster won in one sense by not even appearing. Other than a throwaway 'absentee governor; comment from Bryant, no one else ever came back to that — not even Bryant himself. None of the four gave a compelling reason to vote for them over McMaster."

Knotts: "I did not see a clear winner in the debate. The candidates did not spend very much time attacking Gov. Henry McMaster and they did not do enough to differentiate themselves from each other. As an incumbent, McMaster is likely to be in the runoff, and these candidates needed to more clearly differentiate themselves from each other.

"Catherine Templeton and John Warren are the two most likely to make the runoff, and they both had some strong moments. Gov. Haley remains a popular figure in South Carolina and Templeton connected herself to Haley on several occasions. She even used Haley’s famous phrase, 'It’s a great day in South Carolina,' and chose Haley as the person she would most like to have dinner with.

"Warren employed some self-deprecation when he said, 'I admit that in some of these TV interviews and these debates, I may come across as stiff. I’ve been told to actually wear an iWatch so that I can remember to smile.' I thought this was a good way to address a weakness and connect with potential voters."

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.