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Democratic candidates for SC governor yet to debate, with less than two weeks until election

State Sen. Mia McLeod, left, and former Congressman Joe Cunningham are largely viewed as the...
State Sen. Mia McLeod, left, and former Congressman Joe Cunningham are largely viewed as the frontrunners in South Carolina’s five-candidate Democratic gubernatorial primary.(Mary Green)
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 6:36 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2022 at 8:02 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s primary election is in less than two weeks, and some voters are already casting their ballots, thanks to the state’s new early voting law.

But South Carolinians have not yet had the opportunity to hear from the Democrats seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Henry McMaster on the debate stage.

During the state’s last gubernatorial race, in 2018, Democratic candidates faced off three times in debates before the June primary.

This year, there has yet to be a single televised debate ahead of the June 14 primary.

But one candidate, state Sen. Mia McLeod of Richland County, said a debate aired on SCETV was supposed to happen Wednesday.

That is no longer the case.

“They pulled the plug on it a few days ago, and I was really disappointed by that,” McLeod said. “But it’s my understanding that my opponent in Charleston was the only one that did not confirm that he would not attend and participate.”

McLeod is referring to former Congressman Joe Cunningham, with the two of them largely viewed as the frontrunners in this five-candidate Democratic primary.

On Tuesday, McLeod posted a video on Twitter to challenge Cunningham to a debate, saying they should “give the people what they want.”

“I’m eager to put my record up against my opponents’, to have those conversations, to talk about the issues that matter to South Carolinians, and I don’t know why he wouldn’t be,” McLeod said in an interview later.

Cunningham, in a reply on Twitter, said he welcomes “a fair debate,” but alleged the one scheduled for Wednesday was organized by people on the McLeod campaign’s payroll.

“Integrity and honesty matter — if there are any objective groups that would like to organize a debate, we’re in,” Cunningham tweeted.

According to McLeod, the June 1 debate was organized by the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Black Caucus, whose chair is Brandon Upson.

McLeod’s latest campaign finance report, filed with the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, lists a $900 payment to Upson for “acquisition,” but does not provide further details.

When asked about Cunningham’s comment, McLeod said she didn’t know what he was talking about, and that she also didn’t know the specifics of the proposed debate.

“I was told that the Black Caucus would have no say — and obviously they don’t have a say since ETV pulled the plug,” McLeod said.

Later Tuesday night, McLeod tweeted back at Cunningham, saying, “Did I whine, pout, and refuse to participate when the guy on your payroll organized and moderated a virtual forum? It’s time to put up or shut up.”

The South Carolina Democratic Party has not responded to a request for comment about efforts to organize a debate and why one has not happened yet.

At this point, no other debate is scheduled among Democratic candidates, the winner of whom will likely face off with McMaster on the November ballot, though the Republican incumbent does have one challenger from his own party in the primary.

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