COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster won a historic reelection bid on Tuesday as he faced voters one last time in his four-decade political career and they gave him a chance to be the longest-serving governor the state has ever had.
McMaster, 75, defeated Democrat Joe Cunningham, who repeatedly highlighted the 35-year age gap with his opponent. If he completes his second term, McMaster would serve as governor for 10 years, longer than any other executive in the state’s history.
McMaster’s argument for reelection has been simple — if you like what you’ve seen so far, I’ll give you more. He has touted the booming economy and his willingness to fight Democratic President Joe Biden when needed.
At his short victory speech Tuesday night, McMaster quoted blues singer Bonnie Raitt, saying “let’s give ’em something to talk about” for his final term and and country singer Tim McGraw,
“I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.” said McMaster, who also said hello to his two grandchildren, both born this year.
It was another big night for Republicans, who have not lost a statewide race since 2008.
Ellen Weaver was elected education superentendent, taking over for Republican Molly Spearman, who decided not to run again. There were questions whether Weaver is qualified. She only obtained a required master's degree just before the election.
Weaver said she is ready to restore trust lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My message to parents: help is on the way. Your right to make choices for your children is paramount. I want to partner with you to restore trust in our education system through total transparency. And I will always fight to ensure that you are in the driver’s seat of your child’s education," Weaver said.
Secretary of State Mark Hammond was elected to a sixth term, Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers won a fifth full term while Treasurer Curtis Loftis won a fourth term.
Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom was unopposed for a sixth term and Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson had no opponent as he sought a fourth term.
This was McMaster’s sixth time asking South Carolina voters to choose him over a Democrat in November. He lost his first two races — including getting just 36% of the vote against U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings in 1986. He won his last five elections as Republicans took over South Carolina.
A Democrat hasn’t been elected governor in the state since 1998.
“South Carolina is booming and we are going to keep on booming," McMaster said.
Prior to McMaster's first election, he ascended from his previous role of lieutenant governor to finish the final two years of former Gov. Nikki Haley’s term. If he completes a second full term, those 10 years will make him the longest-serving governor in the state’s history. Haley resigned to join then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
Cunningham, 40, took up McMaster's age head-on, proposing a constitutional amendment to require South Carolina officeholders to leave their jobs at age 72. While a direct shot at McMaster, it is also was a shot at Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the 82-year-old House majority whip and at 79-year-old President Joe Biden.
Cunningham said our society can only thrive when politicians are willing to call out everyone when they are wrong, not just members of the opposite party.
“You cannot have credibility stating something about one politician, but not acknowledging the faults within your own party," Cunningham said.
Cunningham also said while campaigning that the state needed bold change, suggesting legalizing and taxing marijuana and sports gambling and using that money to eliminate the state income tax.
The starkest difference between the two candidates was on the issue of abortion. McMaster said he would likely sign any additional restrictions from the General Assembly beyond the current six-week abortion ban under a state Supreme Court review.
Cunningham said he would veto any measure like that and Republicans are just below the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto in both the House and Senate.
Cunningham came on the political scene in 2018, flipping the 1st District U.S. House seat, only to lose it in 2020. He didn't say Tuesday night what he plans to do next, but suggested he would remain in politics.
“We are the best state in the entire country and I’m going to fight like hell to make sure we remain so,” Cunningham said.
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