NEWBERRY — South Carolina's candidates for governor took on jobs, education and Gov. Mark Sanford in their first debate Tuesday.
The candidates — Attorney General Henry McMaster, state Rep. Nikki Haley, state Sen. Larry Grooms, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett — were largely cordial and agreed on many of the issues.
But hanging over the candidates was the future of Sanford, who has been under fire since leaving the state for a secret five-day trip to Argentina in June. Sanford later admitted an extramarital affair. Lawmakers have said they are preparing to impeach Sanford when they return to Columbia in January, if not sooner.
The Sanford issue took center stage at first at the Newberry Opera House, as moderator Judi Gatson pushed Bauer on his offer to not run for governor if Sanford resigns from office. Bauer has said he will not announce for governor until late October — if Sanford has not resigned by then.
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How can residents take Bauer's answers seriously, Gatson asked, if he has yet to commit to the race?
"I think I'm more committed to this state than anyone," Bauer countered, arguing South Carolina needs a strong leader to advocate for jobs. "Someone needs to step up and take that leadership role."
All five candidates were asked whether they considered themselves more like Sanford or the late former Gov. Carroll Campbell, also a Republican. Haley and Grooms refused to pick a political forefather. Barrett, Bauer and McMaster said they followed Campbell's tradition.
Haley was asked whether character matters more to voters this election, one of a handful of questions targeting candidates' perceived shortcomings. Haley, who many considered Sanford's pick as successor, said it was unhealthy to continue talking about Sanford and time to start talking about other issues.
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