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Gov. Henry McMaster speaks during a press conference victory lap for the House Democrats' passed legislation that would ban offshore drilling. The conference was held at Bowens Island Restaurant on James Island on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The picture said it all ... almost.

There was Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, standing with Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham to thank him for spearheading legislation that would ban offshore drilling. In the photo, Cunningham is flanked by state Rep. Nancy Mace — who is running against him next year.

It was an inspiring display of unity and bipartisanship rarely seen publicly in South Carolina, proof that even political adversaries can come together over an issue that affects everyone.

And it lasted about as long as it took Mace to get out to the parking lot.

“I’m here today to support our coastline and to support our great Gov. Henry McMaster,” she said in a Facebook post from outside the event. “I’m also here to tell you that I believe the proper way to help our governor, and our state is to keep the power to defend our coasts with him, with the state.”


Democrats were mildly miffed that Mace showed up at a Cunningham event to horn in on the photo op, then use it for campaign fodder. Sure, it was a tad shameless — even though the governor’s office invited Mace along with every other member of the Charleston County legislative delegation. But then the South Carolina Democratic Party posted a Tweet in response that said, “Nancy Mace supports offshore drilling.”

Yeah, that’s not true.

Mace  sponsored a House resolution to express opposition to offshore drilling in March. And in June, when she announced her campaign against Cunningham, she published an op-ed in USA Today that called offshore drilling a danger to the Lowcountry economy.

Those are facts that are easy to check. So why would the Dems make that claim? Other than the usual reason both political parties distort their opponents’ records. Well, perhaps it’s because Mace says that she believes the power to stop offshore drilling rests with the state ... and the U.S. Senate will never pass Cunningham’s bill anyway.

She has a point on the Senate, but her main argument doesn’t hold water — even with other Republicans. The state’s jurisdiction extends only a few miles into the Atlantic Ocean, and offshore drilling and seismic testing would take place in waters that only the federal government could control. In other words, the state has no say in what happens out there.

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Then there’s the fact that oil doesn’t pay much attention to political boundaries. South Carolina can ban drilling, but if Georgia allows it, those spills could end up on our beaches. And our governor could do nothing about it.

Hence, the need for federal legislation.

The upshot is offshore drilling looks to be a major issue in yet another 1st District congressional campaign. And that is a mild problem for Mace.

If she wins the GOP nomination, Mace will have to fend off Democrats’ charges that she’s equivocating sort of like Katie Arrington did. They will argue her states’ rights stance doesn’t protect South Carolina, and could persuade voters to believe she’s not 100 percent on board with an offshore drilling ban.

Mace could probably defend herself successfully on that point, given her record. Trouble is, that same record could make it difficult for her to win the GOP nomination. When she took to Facebook last weekend to outline her position, Mace had several people take issue with her opposition to offshore drilling.

“Why are you opposed to job-producing energy production?” one man asked.

“If you support freedom and prosperity, you support offshore drilling,” went one particularly jingoistic comment.

Polls shows the majority of voters in the 1st District oppose offshore drilling. But such sentiments are far murkier among Republican primary voters, aka the “drill, baby, drill” crowd.

Somehow, Mace has to stick to her guns on offshore drilling, and do it without raising the ire of the pro-oil-slick-on-the-beach crowd.

So, Mace may want to stay away from offshore drilling events for a while. She may even prefer to let her opponents try to distort her record ... at least until next June.

Reach Brian Hicks at

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