COLUMBIA - South Carolina's gubernatorial field is nearly set, with one debate remaining before voters decide if Gov. Henry McMaster or Greenville businessman John Warren will be the Republican nominee in November.
The Post and Courier of Charleston is again partnering with South Carolina Educational Television and the state Republican Party for a debate, set for June 20 at Newberry Opera House.
McMaster was the top vote getter in the Tuesday GOP primary but failed to get the majority needed to avoid a runoff. He secured 42 percent of votes cast, while Warren won about 28 percent.
Entering the race in February as a virtual political unknown, Warren's popularity surged in recent weeks, as he knocked Catherine Templeton out of the No. 2 Republican slot. In the race for more than a year, the former public health chief had nearly matched McMaster in fundraising, but Warren - largely self-funded, with millions of his own money - surged in the closing days, with Templeton finishing Tuesday's runoff with just more than 21 percent.
In her concession speech, Templeton fell short of endorsing Warren but reiterated support both for the "outsider" mantle both of them donned during the primary campaign and the overall success of Republican candidates.
"We want to make sure the next conservative new generation of South Carolina wins in November," Templeton told supporters gathered in Columbia. "We've got to all come together and fight because we have to make sure that 'blue wave' doesn't get us."
McMaster led his individual GOP competitors throughout the primary but lagged behind them collectively, falling well below the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Collectively, Templeton and Warren's supporters marked more than 49 percent in Tuesday's voting.
The short primary runoff window will mean a vigorous campaign during the next two weeks, and Warren on Tuesday warned his supporters they'd likely see McMaster's campaign go negative on him.
"I have been shot at before," Warren said, challenging McMaster to three debates. "The people of South Carolina deserve to see that Henry McMaster has no idea about our future."
The runoff winner will face Democratic Rep. James Smith of Columbia and American Party candidate Martin Barry in November. Smith easily coasted to victory over Charleston consultant Phil Noble and Florence Marguerite Willis on Tuesday with 62 percent of votes cast. Like McMaster's Republican challengers, Smith has called for a change in leadership in the state's top office, a stance he reminded supporters of Tuesday in downtown Columbia.
"Today, this day, Democrats, independents and Republicans cast their ballots to support this campaign for new leadership," Smith said. "All of us joining together seeking to elect a governor to serve all the people of this state, a governor who can unify this state and a governor who will care more about doing a job than keeping the job. And my friends, I am ready to be that governor."
Smith has picked fellow state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell as his running mate for lieutenant governor. McMaster has selected businesswoman Pamela Evette, while Warren is running with retired Charleston developer and State Ports Authority Chairman Pat McKinney.
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