Cindi Ross Scoppe

What matters in the McMaster-Warren runoff and what doesn’t — or shouldn’t

IF THE primary debates convinced me that John Warren was the Republican gubernatorial candidate I’d want to hire as my personal security guard — and they absolutely did — the runoff debate convinced me that Gov. Henry McMaster is the one I’d want at my next dinner party.

I’ve long known that Mr. McMaster can be charming and engaging, if in a goofy sort of way, but I had not realized he could do stand-up until he was asked at Wednesday’s debate about global warming.

Like Mr. Warren, Mr. McMaster never directly said what he believed was causing temperatures to rise — obviously neither thought he could capitalize on a direct answer but knew that answer could haunt him either in Tuesday’s GOP runoff or in the November general election.

I certainly don’t condone avoiding questions, but if you’re going to do that, it helps to do it with good humor. And while Mr. Warren delivered his typical robotic response, Mr. McMaster sidestepped the question with such humor and timing that even questioner Andy Shain of The Post and Courier was laughing and the audience was howling by the end of their exchange — which Mr. McMaster managed to extend into the following question.

Unfortunately, the transcript doesn’t capture his comedic delivery, so you really ought to watch it (the video clip is at the top of this column). But here’s how the initial part went down:

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After the governor told Mr. Shain in his folksy style, “I know the water’s coming up in Charleston, because it floods the city streets there about fifty or sixty times a year,” Mr. Shain interjected: “Do you believe in global warming, and if so, what do you think the cause is?”

McMaster: “Yea, it’s getting warmer. Whether that fits your definition of global warming I don’t know, but it is getting warmer. And I know that the water’s coming up.”

Shain: “Well, why do you think that is?”

McMaster: “The water’s coming up.”

Shain: “Well, OK. Because?”

McMaster “Must be something melting somewhere I guess.”

Shain: “And it’s melting because …?”

McMaster: “Because it’s warmer.”

If debate style decided elections, “The water’s coming up” could be the defining line of this runoff.

Thank goodness, it doesn’t, because it really shouldn’t matter whether a governor can make us laugh or he’s deadly dry and serious. Well, except maybe as a tie-breaker. Just like it shouldn’t matter if a governor can kill insurgents — not even as a tie-breaker — although military service definitely goes in the plus column for any politician.

It also shouldn’t matter which candidate can do a better job of fawning over a president (any president). Or whether the president comes to campaign for him. But we all know that likely will make a difference. If it does, that’ll be good for the candidate I consider superior, but it’s still not the sort of thing that ought to determine how we vote.

In fact, I didn’t see much in the debate that ought to determine how we vote. As usual in a primary, the two candidates differ little on policy. So the debate mostly showed off differences in personality and style, which ought to be relegated to those uncommon tie-breaker situations.

What ought to determine how we vote is our list of positives and negatives for each candidate, which I think should focus on what kind of people they are and their values and history and intelligence and capacity to do the job. We’ll have different items on those lists, and some things I consider positives others will consider negatives, because our values aren’t identical. Even when we put the same items in the same columns on our lists, we’ll give them different weights. What’s important is that we put those lists together, and make a smart choice — instead of an emotional one.

For Mr. McMaster, my positive list includes his deep and abiding respect for the rule of law, as demonstrated especially in his role as attorney general, his honesty and integrity and love for our state, his demonstrated ability to work with legislators, and the fact that I know what to expect of him, because I’ve seen how he conducts himself in public office. On the negative list, I suppose I would put his lack of business and military experience, but the other negatives I can think of would also be on Mr. Warren’s list, starting with that whole fawning over a president thing.

For Mr. Warren, my positive list includes the fact that he volunteered to serve in the military, apparently did so with distinction, and built an apparently successful business. I say apparently because I just don’t know for sure. And despite hearing him say that over and over, nothing in this campaign has erased that question mark.

Like most South Carolinians, I wasn’t familiar with him before he decided earlier this year that he wanted to be governor; there’s no real public record to reassure me or disturb me.

Maybe he’s as honest as Mr. McMaster and has as much integrity and love for our state, but I simply have no first-hand knowledge of that, and no independent sources to call on for such information. And that’s his huge, overarching negative — along with the fact that, based on his promises and his charges against the incumbent, he doesn’t seem to understand the job of governor of South Carolina. Or the skills needed to do it well.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.