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McMaster looks for record run as South Carolina governor

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Jeffrey Collins/AP
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AP
FILE - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster looks at data about the COVID-19 spread in the Kershaw County School District during a discussion with school officials at Camden Elementary School on Wednesday Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has quietly signed into law a bill, Monday, May 16, that would ban transgender students from playing girls’ or women’s sports in public schools and colleges as the state joins about a dozen others that have passed similar laws in the past two years . (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's primary Tuesday will determine whether Republican Gov. Henry McMaster gets to run for a second full term that would make him the longest-serving governor in the state's history, while five Democratic gubernatorial candidates are vying for their party's nomination.

McMaster faces one candidate for the Republican nomination. Harrison Musselwhite is a trucker and former businessman who says he is running to allow open carry of guns, prevent any government vaccine mandates and eliminate state income taxes.

McMaster has raised $5 million for his reelection bid, while Musselwhite, who uses and campaigns with the nickname Trucker Bob, has not reported any campaign contributions, according to state ethics filings.

Governors in South Carolina are limited to two four-year terms, but if McMaster wins the primary and November's election, he will have the chance to serve an unprecedented 10 years in office. That's because he automatically ascended to the role from his lieutenant governor seat in January 2017 when Nikki Haley resigned to take a job in then-President Donald Trump's administration. McMaster served out Haley's last two years before getting elected in his own right in 2018.

On the Democratic side, five candidates are seeking the gubernatorial nomination: former U.S. House member Joe Cunningham, state Sen. Mia McLeod, health care administrator Carlton Boyd, barber and musician Calvin “CJ Mack” McMillan and Vietnam veteran and former postal worker William H. “Cowboy” Williams.

Most of the attention has been focused on Cunningham and McLeod, who have also raised the most money. Cunningham has received $1.8 million, while McLeod has taken in about $500,000.

Both candidates have spent time in local party gatherings, trying to generate grassroots support and emphasizing their differences with McMaster instead of each other. In their one debate Friday after early voting ended, Cunningham and McLeod again spent more time targeting the Republican governor than they did their three Democratic opponents — only one of whom answered the invitation to debate.

McLeod also had a personal tiff on Twitter with Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, suggesting infidelity and nepotism after Rutherford endorsed Cunningham and said McLeod had done little in her 10 years in the General Assembly.

McLeod often introduces herself as the first Black woman to run for governor in South Carolina, though she says her main purpose for running isn't to make history, but to make a difference. She said South Carolina needs an alternative to the string of “Republican Light” Democratic men who have run and lost the past five gubernatorial races.

Cunningham has campaigned with a number of splashy promises such as legalizing sports gambling and recreational marijuana use.

He also insists that he is best positioned to beat McMaster. Cunningham cites his ideas and youthfulness, and has repeatedly highlighted the 35-year age gap between him and the governor. Cunningham is 40. McMaster is 75. Cunningham also contends that anything the incumbent governor hopes to accomplish with four more years of public service should have been done in his first four decades as a politician.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.