COLUMBIA — South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds if it wants to grow its economy, a Democrat running for governor said Thursday.

"The Confederate Flag debate continues to hold our state back. We are not going to compete in a 21st century economy by prolonging 19th century arguments," Charleston lawyer Mullins McLeod said in a news release. "By agreeing to move past this old argument once and for all, we will be telling the world that South Carolina is ready to lead again."

The flag at a monument to Confederate war dead at the Capitol already has been a topic in the 2010 race. Republican candidates in their first debate in September closed the door to removing the banner.

"We settled this issue years ago on a bipartisan and biracial basis, and we're moving forward to tackle the real problems facing South Carolina," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. McConnell is the flag’s staunchest defender in the Senate and helped shape the 2000 compromise that moved it from the Statehouse dome to the monument.

"We need candidates concentrating on progress rather than press and in looking ahead rather than backwards," McConnell said in a statement.