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Democratic governor candidates Marguerite Willis, Phil Noble and Rep. James Smith participate in a gubernatorial primary debate at the University of South Carolina Monday June 4, 2018 in Columbia,S.C.. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

COLUMBIA —As the three Democratic candidates for governor sparred again Monday night in their latest primary debate, they disagreed at times on the actual facts at hand. Here were a few key disputes:

Santee Cooper

During a back and forth, Florence attorney Marguerite Willis was asked about her law partner, Leighton Lord, the former chairman of Santee Cooper — the minority owner of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear project. 

Willis recognized that she works for the same law firm, Nexsen Pruet. But she said Lord was only chairman for two and half years before he commissioned a highly-secret audit that pointed out a host of problems with construction at V.C. Summer. 

That is true. Under Lord's leadership, Santee Cooper pushed its project partner SCANA to hire Bechtel to audit the multibillion dollar effort. 

Noble pushed back and said Gov. Henry McMaster successfully fired Lord after the project's collapse last fall. 

That is not true, which Willis pointed out. McMaster attempted to fire Lord, but Lord filed a lawsuit to stop the governor from pushing him out. A judge filed an injunction to temporarily stop McMaster but Lord resigned before the issue could be hashed out in court.  

Noble noted the end result was the same anyway. 


James Smith again said he would expand Medicaid in South Carolina with a wave of the pen. 

It's not quite as simple as that. The governor's office can inform the federal government the state intends to expand the Medicaid program, which currently insures over a quarter of the state's population. 

But the Legislature still plays a huge role in making sure state government actually receives the federal money to cover the health care costs for thousands of additional people in South Carolina.  

By 2019, the state would have to appropriate 7 percent of the money for the Medicaid expansion, and the Legislature controls those purse strings. If the Republican-led Statehouse doesn't come up with that money, the state won't get the federal taxpayer money that covers the other 93 percent of the cost of expansion.  

Smith and his lieutenant governor running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, both longtime lawmakers, believe they have the political pull to convince enough Democrats and Republicans to do just that. 


Willis claimed that a recent poll had her winning the race with 45 percent of the vote to Smith's 40 percent. 

That was a mistaken reference to a fake results page that Columbia TV station WLTX accidentally put online last week to test their system.

The only recent public polls in the Democratic governor's race have found that many voters are undecided, a result that some candidates disputed. 

Republican connections

Phil Noble attacked James Smith for representing South Carolina's Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson in an ethics case and then partnering with Wilson's office on a lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, which he described as a corrupt arrangement.

Smith did indeed represent Wilson and has partnered with his office on the Purdue Pharma case, a fact that has also been brought up by Greenville attorney William Herlong, who is challenging Wilson in his GOP primary.

Noble then accused Smith of lying about his connections to Wilson.

Smith did not appear to deny that he had been hired for the case, saying: "The fact that I happen to be a good lawyer and I get hired by Republicans and Democrats and independents — I guess I'll plead guilty to that."  

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.