With the Dorchester County Council Chambers filled beyond capacity and nearly 300 tuning in online, the Dorchester County GOP's debate Monday showcased three races where candidates are vying for the Republican nomination.
"With this being our first debate and coordinating with Patch, it just resulted in a smash hit," Dorchester County Republican Party Chair Carroll Duncan said. She estimated the crowd at around 275.
Patch was the presenting sponsor of the debate. Editor Lindsay Street and SCGOP Chair Chad Connelly moderated, asking questions that were submitted by readers days ahead of the debate and selected toward helping Republican candidates choose the person who best represented the GOP.
According to a Patch online poll, which is not scientific, but 98 percent of participants reported that the debate was fair.
"I've encouraged as many debates as possible," Connelly said in his opening remarks. He added that debates are the time to tell the difference between who is a conservative and who is just trying to get with the "winning party."
Patch also asked readers who won the debate in a poll that ended 9 p.m. Tuesday.. While the poll and the user views on the story did not match and the results were likely "gamed," there were only 400-600 votes unaccounted for, representing about 15 percent of votes.
According to readers responding to the poll, Sheriff candidate Mike Turner, District 97 candidate Jordan Bryngelson and District 38 incumbent Sen. Mike Rose won their debates against their opponents.
The straw poll had the winners pegged as Sheriff L.C. Knight, District 97 candidate Ed Carter and District 38 challenger Sean Bennett.
The bell came quicker than some of the candidates expected, with only 1 minute given to most responses, 30 seconds given to rebuttals and 2 minutes given to opening and closing remarks.
The Sheriff Debate
Turner and Knight found themselves agreeing on a number of topics, such as not cutting the department's budget and allowing deputies to continue using take-home vehicles.
The candidates differed on whether or not the county should establish and maintain its own SWAT team, however. Turner said the benefit outweighed the cost, but Knight said the county could not afford something that is offered for free by its neighbors.
They also differed on providing arrest information and mugshots on the Internet. Turner said he wanted that information posted, but Knight said it was like trying someone before they were proven guilty in the court of law.
Though the audience was asked to hold applause until the end of each debate, some in the audience erupted after Turner's response to whether or not he would sign the Sheriff Mack pledge, which has become a cause among conservatives worried that the federal government may "take over" their communities.
While Knight dismissed the question by saying it was not a position endorsed by the sheriff's association and Turner also said he is not concerned with signing a pledge, Turner won favor by saying the federal government has a history of overreaching and, as sheriff, he would be the protector.
District 97 Debate
Candidate Ed Carter was able to bring his conservative credentials to the crowd and explain running as a Democrat for the seat previously to begin the debate. Bryngelson, who has been actively involved in the Republican party, was not asked a similar question.
Carter said he only ran as a Democrat because he was asked to, and he planned on switching parties later.
The candidates had a lively exchange as Carter said he would not hold his opponents "youth and inexperience" against him in the race after Bryngelson said there has never been a question of his loyalty to the Republican party.
The two talked economic development differences as well. Bryngelson said the area needs to focus on existing buildings and stop the "if you build it, they will come" economic development strategy. His opponent said industrial parks and pre-permitted parks are necessary for economic development.
District 38 Debate
Rose and challenger Sean Bennett worked every question to distance themselves from each other. They had multiple tense exchanges as they battled for rebuttals on the issues.
Moderators limited the rebuttals for time, and asked them to hold their comments for their closing remarks.
Both candidates agreed on school choice, but began laying out their different views on impact fees, the state infrastructure bank and whether or not the state surplus should be returned to taxpayers.
While Rose defended impact fees as a way to pay for new growth, his opponent fired back that the current impact fees have yet to fund infrastructure or schools. Rose also defended his legislation to remove the state infrastructure bank and place its funding under SCDOT, but Bennett said that would be a mistake.
Bennett was asked to name a vote he disagreed with Rose on and why, and he selected capping tuition fees, saying that was a purely emotional vote with no regard to consequences.
Rose quickly fired back that the bill was needed in this economic climate.