Republican S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Democratic state Rep. James Smith squared off Thursday in their second and final debate before the Nov. 6 governor’s election.
The State asked three S.C. political scientists to decide who won and why.
Smith won the first debate resoundingly, the debate experts said last week. A different set of experts picked the Columbia Democrat again this time around but by much slimmer margins.
Here is a look back at the debate through the eyes of Winthrop University political scientist Karen Kedrowski, College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts and Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Best line or moment
Kedrowski: Smith, when defending himself for missing the 2007 Base Load Review Act vote, said: “I didn’t take a walk. I was serving in Afghanistan.” McMaster’s campaign should have known that was coming. He walked right into it.
Knotts: On several occasions, Smith said that the people of South Carolina need leadership that “cares more about doing the job than keeping the job.” This line of argument allowed Smith to paint McMaster as a person who politicizes certain issues. He highlighted McMaster’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and ban sanctuary cities, and painted him as someone who focuses on “imaginary” problems to score political points. This is currently a criticism of state and national politicians, and a potentially effective argument for a challenger to make.
Vinson: When Smith said: “You’ve got to care more about doing this job than keeping the job.”
Why? He was able to tie it to several issues to point out that he would take positions that might not be popular but would be best for the state. And in saying that, he also was able to make a negative point about McMaster that he was more concerned about getting elected.
Worst line or moment
Kedrowski: McMaster’s response to the question about the condition of his rental properties. His defense was, “My wife manages the business.” Not only did he fail to answer the question of whether he would live in his own properties, he shifted the blame to his spouse. Sexist and demeaning.
Knotts: When McMaster responded to a question about the rundown condition of some of his rental properties. After dodging responsibility by noting that his wife Peggy runs the rental company and that there is also a property manager, he took a shot at college students, a group that often rents his properties. McMaster said: “Students act like students, college students. We live on the college campus. They break a lot of things. We fix them as fast as we can.” This was a bad line because it stereotypes college students and has the potential to alienate an important voting bloc, both in this election and in future contests.
Vinson: McMaster’s comment: “We need to teach South Carolinians. We’re teaching too many people from outside of SC.”
As a professor, this jumped out at me as problematic for a couple of reasons: In the context of immigration, it sounds like we’re circling the wagons and don’t want to let in outsiders. The American Dream is about people coming from other places to make this their home and to be educated and stay here. And in a state where we are trying to attract global business and investment, our students need to be exposed to people from other parts of the country and the world in their classes. That should be part of their education. How can we expect them to understand other people if they don’t get to know those people and interact with them?
Who won, and why?
Kedrowski: Smith by a slender margin. Smith was better prepared and gave more concrete answers. On the other hand, he had a slew of one-liners in which he mixed metaphors — is McMaster a coach who should be fired or an ineffective CEO? McMaster spoke in generalities and evaded concrete responses even when pressed. He also had some gaffes, though none were fatal.
Knotts: Smith won the debate. He effectively contrasted his positions with McMaster and made the case for changing direction in South Carolina. Smith said South Carolina ranks at the bottom in many key areas and told McMaster that if South Carolina was a football team, and McMaster was the head coach, he would be fired.
Vinson: Smith by virtue of slightly more specific proposals and ideas.