South Carolina’s primary Tuesday will determine whether Republican government leader Henry McMaster can run for a second full term, making him the longest-serving governor in state history, as five Democratic governor candidates compete for their party’s nomination.
McMaster faces one candidate for the Republican nomination. Harrison Musselwhite is a truck driver and former businessman who says he is on the run to allow open-carrying arms, avoid any government vaccinations, and do away with state taxes.
McMaster has raised $5 million for his reelection bid, while Musselwhite, who uses the Trucker Bob nickname and campaigns, has reported no campaign contributions, according to state ethics filings.
Governors in South Carolina are limited to two four-year terms, but if McMaster wins the primaries and the November election, he will have the chance to serve an unprecedented 10 years in office. That’s because he automatically dismounted from his lieutenant governor’s seat in January 2017 when Nikki Haley resigned to take a job in the administration of then-President Donald Trump. McMaster served Haley’s last two years before being self-elected in 2018.
On the Democratic side, five candidates are seeking the governor’s nomination: former House Member Joe Cunningham, state senator Mia McLeod, health care administrator Carlton Boyd, hairdresser and musician Calvin “CJ Mack” McMillan, and Vietnam veteran and former postal worker William H “Cowboy “Williams.
Most of the attention went to Cunningham and McLeod, who also raised the most money. Cunningham has received $1.8 million while McLeod has received approximately $500,000.
Both candidates have spent time in local party rallies, trying to generate grassroots support and highlighting their differences with McMaster rather than with each other. In their lone debate Friday after the early vote ended, Cunningham and McLeod again spent more time targeting the Republican governor than their three Democratic opponents — only one of whom answered the invitation to debate.
McLeod also had a personal rant on Twitter with Todd Rutherford, leader of the Democratic minority group, suggesting disloyalty and nepotism after Rutherford approved Cunningham, saying McLeod had done little in her 10 years in the General Assembly.
McLeod often introduces herself as the first black woman to run for governor in South Carolina, though she says her main goal of running is not to make history, but to make a difference. She said South Carolina needs an alternative to the string of “Republican” Democratic men who have run and lost the past five gubernatorial races.
Cunningham has campaigned with some rousing promises, such as legalizing sports gambling and recreational marijuana use.
He also insists he is in the best position to beat McMaster. Citing his ideas and youthfulness, Cunningham has repeatedly pointed to the 35-year age difference between him and the governor. Cunningham is 40. McMaster is 75. Cunningham also argues that whatever the incumbent governor hopes to achieve with four more years of public service should have been done in his first four decades as a politician.
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