Republican candidate Henry McMaster, left, and Democratic candidate Joe Cunningham debated state and nationwide topics. (Photo courtesy of SCETV)

Gov. Henry McMaster and his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Joe Cunningham, debated South Carolina and national issues Wednesday night.

Education reform, abortion, and recession were dicussed as state-specific issues. The national topics included gun control, climate change, and same sex marrige.

They disagreed on most topics, but they agreed teachers need more support — and higher salaries. McMaster said he has raised teacher salaries by $10,000 while in office, but wants to increase that amount. Cunningham said he wants to give teachers an initial 10% raise across the board, and get their starting salaries up to $50,000 by the time he would leave office. 

But abortion was the first topic debated, Candidates followed their party’s stances closely. Cunningham said he supports abortion policies under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently nullified. McMaster sided with the current legislation of the heartbeat bill and said if there is any change to abortion legislation that South Carolina legislators will draft a bill with the best interests of the people in mind.

Recession was another early question, with equally quick responses from the candidates. Both have plans to lower the income tax, with Cunningham wanting it to be completely abolished. 

He said he would supplement the money lost by legalizing and taxing marijuana and sports betting. McMaster was against the legalization of both. He said both could give South Carolina an unattractive reputation.

“What do you want to teach the children,” McMaster said. “Do you want to teach them that recreational marijuana is great or that betting on sports contests and horse racing? I mean, I think we’ve got to be serious.”

Cunningham said people are already breaking those laws and suggested the state should be making money on that behavior.

McMaster, when asked if he would support a reversal of the 2015 same-sex marriage decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, said he would prefer to follow state laws, which he hoped would make it illegal.

He doubled down in his rebuttal.  

“Marriage is a special institution, and that designation ought to be reserved for a man and a woman,” McMaster said. 

Cunningham was against reversing the precedent.

On gun control, both said they want to keep guns out of the hands of “bad people.” Cunningham said he wants a stricter background check policy, and McMaster said he wants the Second Amendment to be respected when dealing with gun control. 

Cunningham agreed and said that there can be a middle ground found between respecting the Second Amendment and “common sense gun laws.”

The candidates agreed that criminal reform, too, should focus on keeping bad people off the streets. Both had issues with how easy it is for people to get out of jail on bail while awaiting trial. And they said they would support increasing police presence if that would curb the state’s crime rate. 

At the end, they were asked what their first priority would be if they were elected. Cunningham said it he would expand medicaid and increase teacher salaries. McMaster said helping teachers would be at the top of his list.

Throughout the debate, the candidates went back and forth about why the other wasn’t fit for office. These are some of the positions they took. (Graphic by Noah Watson)