Democrats spar in final debate one week ahead of Gubernatorial primary

While voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots in the gubernatorial primary June 12, Democrats James Smith, Marguerite Willis and Phil Noble took to the stage at the University of South Carolina for their final debate Monday night to make their final pitch to voters.

The topics were wide-ranging from race relations to energy policy, to climate change and bi-partisanship. Some of the more spirited exchanges came on the issue of ethics, when each of Smith's opponents -- Marguerite Willis and Phil Noble -- sought to tie Smith to what they said amounts to a culture of corruption in the State House.

They claimed Smith enjoyed a cozy relationship with former State Rep. Rick Quinn, a lawmaker who gave up his seat after an indictment last year on corruption charges.

Smith dismissed the attacks.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - "I've had the ability that I have to bring people together which is what we need. This divisive politics, I think South Carolinians have had enough of it. And we need leadership that can unify the state and bring us together and it's been my life's work and do that- and that's my life's work, that's prepared me for this race," Smith said.

Noble said Smith, a longtime state representative, in fact, represents the status quo.

"This is a referendum on the broken and corrupt system we have in Columbia that has held us back. It is a referendum on politics as usual, of people who take PAC money, special interest money, and enrich themselves and their clients and leave our people behind," Noble said.

Marguerite Willis, a lawyer from Florence said she was running on behalf of women’s rights, including equal pay for equal work, and said she has a record of results.

"I am an innovative smart lawyer who is made a lot of money doing smart things for big business. I know how to get big deals done, I know how to take care of complicated issues- and solve complicated problems, and I am the person for this job," Willis said.

The moderators in tonight's debate framed one of their questions- on a recent poll which showed as many as 50 percent of voters in the Democratic primary remain undecided, suggesting the race on the Democratic side might be wide open.  Other polls show Smith with a lead.

Noble described the race as a referendum on politics as usual.

"I think the key here is what kind of government are we going to have?" Noble asked. "Are we going to have more of the same? Or are we going to try to do something fundamentally different?"

The five Republicans running for governor will debate for the final time Tuesday night at the same venue on USC's campus.

Stay with WIS News 10 ahead of the Gubernatorial primary.

Copyright 2018 WIS. All rights reserved.