Republican governor candidates participate in a gubernatorial between challenger John Warren and Governor Henry McMaster Wednesday, June 20, 2018, at Newberry Opera House in Newberry, S. C. (Andrew Whitaker/The Post And Courier via AP)

Trump plays central role in South Carolina governor debate

June 20, 2018 - 9:57 pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster was an early supporter of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had never run for political office. McMaster's opponent said Wednesday it's inconsistent for McMaster to now say there's no time for on-the-job training where the governorship is concerned.

"I find it very ironic that he thinks no experience is a negative, when what you tout more than anything is your support from President Trump," Warren said as the two met in the final debate before next week's GOP runoff. "We need someone who's an outsider like Donald Trump to go to Columbia and drain the swamp."

McMaster insisted, however, "The governorship is no real place for on-the-job training."

But Warren said his own private sector success shows he can manage the state effectively.

McMaster, 71, was the top vote-getter in the June 12 GOP primary but fell short of the 50 percent needed to win the nomination outright. Warren came in second with 28 percent, and the third- and fourth-place candidates have both endorsed him.

Trump has endorsed McMaster and will campaign in the state for him Monday, following a Saturday campaign stop from Vice President Mike Pence to the Myrtle Beach area.

The president appeared at a fall fundraiser for McMaster, who as lieutenant governor was the first statewide-elected official in the nation to back his candidacy. Trump cleared the path for McMaster to become governor when he tapped then-Gov. Nikki Haley as his U.N. ambassador.

On Wednesday, McMaster tried to parlay Trump's years of global business experience into the political realm, saying Trump "has been involved in politics for decades. ... He's a world figure."

McMaster and Warren, 39, also sparred over who supports Trump more strongly. Asked what Trump should do differently in office, McMaster launched into a list of similarities he shares with the president, such as cutting regulations on businesses and aiming to cut taxes. Warren reminded McMaster that he actually first supported U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's presidential bid, only backing Trump when the South Carolina native quit the race.

"I did support Lindsey Graham," McMaster countered, going on to call him South Carolina's "favorite son" and pointing out that he backed Trump before South Carolina's primary, while Warren threw his support behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. "I was supporting Mr. Trump when it counted. My opponent was supporting someone else."

Acknowledging his early support of Cruz, Warren observed that Graham has drawn challengers from far-right conservatives disappointed by his efforts at bipartisanship. "I think thousands of conservatives across the state would agree that Lindsey Graham is not our favorite son," Warren said.

Trump remains popular in South Carolina, where McMaster said the president "loves the people about as much as I do, if that's possible." Noting Trump's popularity in the state that backed him with 55 percent of the general election vote, Warren said those numbers don't translate into support for his chosen candidate in the governor's race, or the runoff wouldn't have been necessary.

"Donald Trump has about a 90 percent approval here in South Carolina," Warren said. "If all his supporters supported Henry McMaster, we wouldn't be on this stage right now."

The winner of Tuesday's runoff faces Democratic state Rep. James Smith in the November general election.


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