GOP, Democratic hopefuls debate family issues - - Columbia, South Carolina |

GOP, Democratic hopefuls debate family issues

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) — Democrats and Republicans hoping to be South Carolina's next governor faced off for a debate in the state capital Tuesday night.

The Palmetto Family Council event was broadcast on WIS News 10, and is posted in its entirety on The four Republican candidates took the stage first, followed by three Democrats. It's one of dozens of public debates candidates have had since the race began last year.

The Republican candidates are Attorney General Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and state Rep. Nikki Haley. The Democratic candidates are state Education Superintendent Jim Rex and state Sens. Vincent Sheheen and Robert Ford.

It might have been called the "Faith and Family Forum," but most of the talk on stage at Drayton Hall centered on things like voting records, job creation, immigration and economic policy.

If there were any sparks flying between the four GOP candidates, they were generated early. State Rep. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett clashed over their votes on stimulus money and corporate bailouts.

Barrett has accused Haley of flip-flopping on the stimulus, while Haley says Barrett backed bailouts. Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer meanwhile, continued his attack on what he calls "generational welfare." He says no one is monitoring the problem.

Attorney General Henry McMaster, believed by many observers to be the GOP frontrunner, said reforming the court system could help the state out of its financial crisis.

The Democratic contenders, Sens. Robert Ford and Vincent Sheheen, and State Superintendent Jim Rex, each hoped they'll have more of the limelight in the near future. When they took the stage for debate, each of the candidates gave their pitch.
Ford said he is the only candidate with a fast plan to fix the budget. "Video poker was a four billion dollar industry, only tax it 25%, that will bring in one billion dollars in revenue, a new casino in Myrtle Beach that'll bring in another, and that will solve the most of the states problems economically."

Sheheen says fixing the state's economy is about thinking outside the box. "I talk about the need to expand the economy to new industry like alternative energy, biofuel in rural areas, wind off the coast and increasing our training for nurses and med techs were we can pay 60, 70, 80 a year."

Rex said he would run the state like a CEO, knowing if he won he would be working mostly with Republican legislators.

"This is not an abstraction to me," he said. "I'm the only Democrat elected to statewide office and only way Democrats get elected to statewide office is to get independents and Republicans to vote for them. That's what happened three and a half years ago."

After the debate, we asked each candidate if there was something else they wanted voters to know.

"Well I would have like to talk about my involvement in public schools in South Carolina with my kids being in public schools and my mom being a teacher," said Sheheen.

"You have to have a 21st century workforce, and you're not going to have a 21st century workforce unless you educate," said Rex. "That's the only way we're going to be the state we want to be."

As the lights went dow, Ford said he had said enough. "I think I did a superb job, I answered the questions, said this is Robert Ford, this is why I'm running, the other candidates don't," he said.    

Nikki Haley trailed the other GOP candidates in fundraising, and they were able to start spending on TV ads weeks and even months ago. But Haley got a sizeable publicity boost from Sarah Palin's endorsement last Friday, and this week, the candidate who appears to be closest to the Tea Party wing of the GOP hits the airwaves with her first self-financed commercial.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Henry McMaster, Congressman Gresham Barrett and Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer continue to roll out the latest of their ads. All are aimed at convincing GOP voters there's something that sets them apart from the pack.

On the other side, the Democratic candidates are looking to do exactly the same thing.

"I certainly think this is the best opportunity a Democrat has had in many years to be elected governor in South Carolina," said state Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler. "20 of the last 24 years, this state has had a Republican governor, and voters realize the reason this state isn't on the right track is because a Republican has been in control all this time."

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford is limited from seeking a third straight term and leaves office in January.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.
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