In what is likely the earliest South Carolina Gubernatorial debate ever, five candidates vying for the Republican Party nomination in 2010 met and debated in Newberry, SC. WIS-TV carried the debate on air and online.
With hardly anyone, including political junkies, paying attention to the race for Governor right now, Tuesday's debate was sort of like a NFL pre-season game. It gave the candidates a chance to work some of the kinks out before the real season started.
There were some kinks and some minor gaffes by all five candidates. None of the gaffes were campaign enders or even major issues down the road. It was a good night for Newberry, and it did show how the candidates seem to be shaping up.
As there were no stark policy disagreements among them, it seemed that the candidates wanted to shape their personalities to the public on Tuesday night.
Attorney General McMaster came across with the confidence of the front runner and wrapped himself in South Carolina and made sure there were moments he complimented those on stage with him.
Lt. Governor Bauer, appearing as eager to serve as ever, tried to portray himself as a man who would give up a full term to serve the state now. He emphasized how he had paid his own way on an economic development trip.
Congressman Gresham Barrett reprised his small town man did good routine from his Congressional races, emphasizing his personal values, his longtime marriage, his military service and his small business experience.
Rep. Nikki Haley did her best to stand on Sanford ideas, but be different than Sanford. For some reason, Haley struck VUI as a South Carolina version of Sarah Palin, going on about her children, her hard work, her family's military service, etc. It would not be shocking if Palin's PAC got involved in this race. That is just a gut feeling.
State Senator Larry Grooms came across as his own man and it was clear he is not "handled" by anyone yet. This might shock some, but if forced to pick a winner, VUI would have to go with Grooms. He answered the questions posed to him and held his own with the four better known and better handled candidates. Grooms defied the whispers around Columbia he would look over his head. He did not.
Haley and McMaster did well. The Lt. Governor did about as well as he could, given the constitutional bind he is in with Governor Sanford. Barrett is hanging his race on his values, and that is always a dangerous thing in South Carolina politics. Barrett has won four Congressional races on such, but will such play statewide?
Of course, the Sanfords could not let this day be given to their would be successors in power. On the day of the first Gubernatorial debate in the campaign to replace her husband, First Lady Jenny Sanford announced she is going to write and publish a book about the ordeal.
Of course the people around the Sanfords will contend that announcement was coincidental. That could have been believed a few months ago. But, after their public back and forth, it is clear that both the Sanfords crave the media spotlight. And, now, for the price of a book, we can have the whole story of Jenny Sanford to inspire us. My guess is it will go on sale right in the heat of next year's election.
Thus, Mrs. Sanford's book announcement reminded the five in Newberry that the Sanfords insist on being along for the ride in 2010. The Governor will not resign. The First Lady will have her story published. Debate and talk of the future, but in the end, the Sanfords will not be ignored.