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SC's homegrown hopefuls Haley, Scott spar at debate over experience, gas tax — and curtains

From left to right, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., argue a point during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/AP
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AP
From left to right, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., argue a point during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Nearly each of the Republican presidential candidates found common ground Wednesday night slamming President Joe Biden's policies and former President Donald Trump's debate stage absence for the second time.

That included South Carolina's two homegrown hopefuls, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, who both used the debate stage to lodge criticisms toward Vivek Ramaswamy over his lack of political experience.

"Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber," Haley told Ramaswamy.

But it was the long-awaited public political bombs Haley and Scott threw at one another near the very end of the debate that showed the race for 2024 has very much heated up.

Fox News debate moderator Dana Perino asked Scott to elaborate on why he should be president over Haley.

Haley appointed the North Charleston Republican to the U.S. Senate in 2012 after the retirement of former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

In early May,Haley told SCETV she had not heard from Scott, who at that point was readying to jump into the race.

"I mean, welcome to the race. ... At the end of the day, people are going to look at what someone has done and what they think they're capable of doing, and so I think you'll have to make that case to the American people as well," Haley said then.

On Wednesday night, Scott turned toward Haley.

Avoiding saying Haley's name, Scott instead talked about his economic policy, saying he'd like the opportunity to get a balanced budget amendment passed to help constrain spending.

Haley took a different course.

"I appreciate Tim. We've known each other a long time. But he's been there 12 years and he hasn't done any of that," Haley said.

Minutes later, Scott circled back to Haley's remark in what turned into a testy exchange over the state's gas tax debate, arguing Haley backed a tax increase, and curtains installed in the U.N. ambassador's home.

"Talk about someone who has never seen a federal dollar she doesn't like," Scott said.

Scott continued, "As the U.N. ambassador, you literally (spent) $50,000 on curtains in a $15 million subsidized location."

Haley responded, "Bring it Tim."

"You got bad information," Haley added about the curtains actually bought by the Obama administration. "First of all, I fought the gas tax in South Carolina multiple times against the establishment."

As governor, Haley supported a state gas tax increase but only coupled with an income tax cut. In addition, she also proposed restructuring the state's transportation agency.

"Now, I hope everyone listened carefully to what I said. This is a three-part package deal," Haley said in her 2015 State of the State address. "In order to get my signature on any gas tax increase, we need to restructure the DOT, and we need to cut our state income tax by 2%. If we do all of those things, we will have better roads and a stronger economic engine for our people. That's a win-win.

Now a presidential contender, Haley has since proposed ending the federal gas tax as part of her economic plan.

In 2017, the S.C. Legislature passed a phased-in gas tax to help build and repair roads and bridges. It was vetoed by Gov. Henry McMaster but overturned by the General Assembly.

"Just go to YouTube," Scott said Wednesday.

"You are scrapping," Haley responded. "You are scrapping right now."

The third presidential debate will be held Nov. 8 in Miami, Florida.

Trump's campaign said Wednesday the former president does not plan to attend.

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.