COLUMBIA, SC — Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster won his party’s nomination for a second full term Tuesday, while five Democratic gubernatorial candidates were vying for their party’s nomination.
If McMaster wins the general election in November and completes the term, he will become the longest-serving governor in the state’s history.
The governor defeated Harrison Musselwhite, a trucker and former businessman who said he was running to allow open carry of guns, prevent any government vaccine mandates and eliminate state income taxes.
McMaster mostly let his governing do his campaigning, reminding voters how the state’s economy is booming and how he tried to carefully tailor COVID-19 restrictions when the pandemic started. He has raised $5 million for his reelection bid.
Governors in South Carolina are limited to two four-year terms, but if McMaster wins the primary and November’s election, he will have the chance to serve an unprecedented 10 years in office. That’s because he automatically ascended to the role from his lieutenant governor seat in January 2017 when Nikki Haley resigned to take a job in then-President Donald Trump’s administration. McMaster served out Haley’s last two years before getting elected in his own right in 2018.
Five candidates are seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination: former US House member Joe Cunningham, state Sen. Mia McLeod, health care administrator Carlton Boyd, barber and musician Calvin “CJ Mack” McMillan and Vietnam veteran and former postal worker William H. “Cowboy” Williams.
Most of the attention has been focused on Cunningham and McLeod, who have also raised the most money. Cunningham has received $1.8 million, while McLeod has taken in about $500,000.
Both candidates have spent time in local party gatherings, trying to generate grassroots support and emphasizing their differences with McMaster instead of each other. In their one debate Friday after early voting ended, Cunningham and McLeod again spent more time targeting the Republican governor than they did their three Democratic opponents — only one of whom answered the invitation to debate.
McLeod also had a personal tiff on Twitter with Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, suggesting infidelity and nepotism after Rutherford endorsed Cunningham and said 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 purpose for running isn’t to make history, but to make a difference. She said South Carolina needs an alternative to the string of “Republican Light” Democratic men who have run and lost the past five gubernatorial races.
Cunningham has campaigned with a number of splashy promises such as legalizing sports gambling and recreational marijuana use.
He also insists that he is best positioned to beat McMaster. Cunningham cites his ideas and youthfulness, and has repeatedly highlighted the 35-year age gap between him and the governor. Cunningham is 40. McMaster is 75. Cunningham also contends that anything the incumbent governor hopes to accomplish with four more years of public service should have been done in his first four decades as a politician.