The State asked a trio of S.C. political scientists for their assessments of Wednesday's final debate in the Republican primary race for governor.
The debate was the first one-on-one matchup between Gov. Henry McMaster and Greenville businessman John Warren, the two candidates on the ballot in Tuesday's GOP runoff.
Here's what Winthrop University's Karen Kedrowski, the College of Charleston's Gibbs Knotts and the University of South Carolina's Robert Oldendick said about the candidates' performances. Their answers were condensed for space.
Best line or moment?
Kedrowski: My favorite was Warren's response to McMaster after the governor noted that Warren did not attend President Trump's inauguration: "I was in the private sector creating jobs and being a productive citizen."
Knotts: The best line of the night was when McMaster made the case for his experience. He said: “The governorship is not a place for on-the-job training. You have to have a basic understanding of how the government works and what your limitations are in the government and what your advantages are.”
This was a good line because it summarizes McMaster’s key message in his campaign, the economy is strong and we need a seasoned and experienced leader to keep the state moving forward. This is a particularly effective strategy to use when running against a political newcomer like Warren.
Oldendick: McMaster’s response to the question on global warming, “Something’s melting somewhere.”
Asked why, the governor responded: “Because it’s getting warmer.”
Even though McMaster dodged the question as to the cause of global warming, this segment was his best of the night. His response to the following question, which was related, was, “Where was he (the e-mail questioner) a minute ago?” That was also humorous.
Worst line or moment?
Kedrowski: Two nominees here. The first was Warren's slip of the tongue when he misspoke and said, "I'm proud of Gov. McMaster'" instead of putting in his running mate's name.
McMaster's worst moment was when Post and Courier editor Andy Shain was asking about global warming. McMaster wouldn't acknowledge global warming. Instead, he just kept saying: "The waters are rising. The waters are rising."
Both candidates had terrible answers to the Heritage Act question. It's pretty clear that neither candidate is trying to appeal to African-American voters.
Knotts: The worst line was Warren’s claim that “Donald Trump has about a 90 percent approval here in South Carolina.” This is factually untrue. In South Carolina, Trump won 54.9 percent of the vote in the 2016 election. According to an April Winthrop Poll, Trump has a 47 percent approval rating in the Palmetto State. In addition to being inaccurate, the line shows a lack of understanding of the entire state. If elected, Warren will have to work with people who both like and dislike the president.
Oldendick: McMaster’s response to the question of the most pressing problem facing the state. His answer, “Lack of inspiration; lack of hope; lack of leadership,” was a strange response from someone who has been the governor for almost 18 months and who has been in a position to provide those things.
Warren fell into a similar pattern. He began several answers with, “This is the greatest state in the nation,” but then described all the problems in the state, particularly corruption.
Who won and why?
Kedrowski: McMaster had more laugh lines. However, I give the edge to Warren. Warren was poised, articulate and on-message. He was very good about responding to McMaster by saying, more than once, "I said nothing that was incorrect."
Knotts: McMaster seemed relaxed, displayed a good sense of humor and showed a strong grasp of the issues. He made a persuasive case for the importance of experience and showed an understanding of how to get things accomplished in this strong legislative state. He also played his ace card, a strong endorsement from President Trump. Warren says he is most like Trump, but that argument is less persuasive with Trump’s endorsement of McMaster.
Oldendick: McMaster won the debate because he piled up a big lead in the first 30 minutes. He was obviously comfortable in the one-on-one format and was able to get in a number of humorous lines while sticking with his campaign themes of the economy, experience and his association with Donald Trump.
McMaster was the leading vote-getter last Tuesday. In this debate, he needed to not make a big mistake and not get beaten decisively. Given that he accomplished these things, he comes out the winner in this contest.