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Debate finally set for South Carolina Democratic hopefuls

At least some of the five South Carolina Democrats seeking their party's gubernatorial nomination are expected to debate, just more than a week before the state's primary elections.

The South Carolina Democratic Party announced Friday that it had sanctioned the production of the debate, to be co-hosted by South Carolina Educational Television and The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston, for June 10. That's a day before South Carolina's Democrats are expected to assemble in Columbia for this year's state party convention.

Whether or not any of the gubernatorial candidates would debate before the June 14 contest had long been up for debate itself.

A broadcast event had been scheduled for June 1, but former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham's refusal to commit to it prompted state Sen. Mia McLeod to issue a debate challenge via Twitter, so she and Cunningham could "give the people what they want."

Cunningham responded by saying that he welcomed "a fair debate" but balking at participation in the forum, which was to have been sponsored by the South Carolina Democratic Party's Black Caucus. Cunningham's concern was that the chair of that caucus is listed as someone paid by McLeod's campaign.

A review of McLeod's expenditures lists chairman Brandon Upson as having been paid $900 by the campaign, remuneration Upson has said was tied to the campaign's purchase of a list of about 100,000 names to be used for fundraising.

A Cunningham spokesman told The Associated Press the former congressman would "be there with bells on" when asked about the June 10 debate. An email to the McLeod campaign was not immediately answered.

During the last gubernatorial election, the three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination debated three times ahead of their primary.

The potential face-off comes with early voting in South Carolina already underway. Thanks to a measure passed by state lawmakers this year, South Carolina now has true early voting for the first time, with voters able to cast their ballots in person at locations across the state in the two weeks leading up to the primary election.

Both Cunningham and McLeod have been largely running their campaigns against Gov. Henry McMaster, the Republican incumbent expected to sail to his party's nomination in his pursuit of a third full term in office. Neither of the Republicans challenging McMaster have been able to attract significant fundraising.

Republicans have controlled South Carolina's Governor's Mansion for 20 years. If he wins reelection, McMaster — who served out the remaining two years of Nikki Haley's second term before winning his own election in 2018 — would become the longest-serving governor in the state's history.

Cunningham — who in 2018 became the first Democrat to flip a South Carolina congressional district from Republican hands, before losing his 2020 reelection bid — has led the Democratic pack in fundraising since launching his campaign in May 2021. As of the first quarter of this year, Cunningham had reported more than $1.7 million.

McLeod, the first Black woman to seek South Carolina's top office, entered the race a year ago. McLeod had raised about $492,000 in total, according to a pre-election filing from May 29.

There are three other Democrats seeking their party's nomination.

Neither Carlton Boyd nor Calvin McMillan has reported raising any money for their campaigns, although McMillan has made a personal contribution of $40 to his effort. William Williams has received nearly $6,000 in fundraising, according to state records.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.