As governor’s race debates start, here’s what the candidates must do to win

May 14–COLUMBIA, S.C. — With only a month left before the June primaries for S.C. governor, debate season is fully upon Palmetto State voters.

Seven candidates from both parties — but not GOP Gov. Henry McMaster — are set to duke it out at the College of Charleston on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the first of a series of debates that will be broadcast across the state.

Here’s what the candidates must do to get a leg up before the June 12 primaries, according to a handful of S.C. political scientists:

For all the candidates


1. Distinguish yourself. In a governor’s race where few, if any, candidates — outside of Gov. McMaster — boast statewide name recognition, the first order of business for the candidates will be introducing themselves to a statewide audience. Next, the candidates must distinguish themselves from the pack.

The Democratic and Republicans candidates should plan to highlight how their backgrounds or policy stances separate them from their competitors, said Furman University political scientist Vinson.

“At this point, it can’t be that everybody loves Trump,” Vinson said, with a nod to the Republican candidates’ efforts to align themselves with the president. “It’s tough to get people to go vote in primaries. They need to be really interested in who they’re voting for, or they need someone they really want to vote against.”

2. Present your own solutions to pressing problems. All of the Republicans — McMaster, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg, Mount Pleasant labor attorney Catherine Templeton and Greenville businessman John Warren — oppose abortion and support private school choice.

The Democrats — Columbia state Rep. James Smith, Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Charleston business consultant Phil Noble — all want to increase teacher pay and tighten S.C. gun laws.

But most everyone knows that already.

Statewide debates offer a candidate the chance to present other, detailed and creative approaches to problems that show the candidate is serious about finding solutions. Candidates whose ideas don’t stray far enough from the status quo might suffer the consequences on primary day, Vinson said.

3. Avoid a major mistake. Going viral for the wrong reason is no way to win a governor’s race. Perhaps the most important rule of debate season is to avoid slipping up. A factual error or rhetorical stumble could give opponents an easy punchline for the rest of the campaign.

“You obviously don’t want to make any big mistakes that could get played over and over again,” said College of Charleston political science professor Gibbs Knotts. “At the end of the day, certainly that’s the clip that sometimes gets played over and over on social media and on the news.”

For the Democrats

4. Prove that you can win in November. Democratic voters watching the debates are looking beyond the June primary. They want one of their own in the Governor’s Mansion for the first time since 2003.

So the three Democrats running for governor should try to prove in the upcoming debates that they can flip the state from red to blue. “South Carolina is still a Republican state,” Vinson said. “You’re going to have to find ways to appeal other than saying, ‘I’m a liberal Democrat.’ ”

For the Republicans

5. Target McMaster. Polls give McMaster a sizable lead over his four Republican challengers, whose only hope — for now — is to force a runoff. But the governor is sitting out the Charleston debate Wednesday, offering his opponents a window to slam him publicly and try to close the gap.

“When you’re a front-runner, the playbook is, typically, you don’t go to so many events,” Knotts said. “You play it safe. But then, again, there is a danger of not being there and having your opponents define you.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.