COLUMBIA — Both of the candidates running for South Carolina governor are now playing a role in the state's response to impending Hurricane Florence.
While incumbent Republican Gov. Henry McMaster leads the state's response from the Emergency Operations Center, his Democratic challenger, state Rep. James Smith of Columbia, has been called up for active duty in the S.C. National Guard.
Around 1,800 National Guard soldiers are already on the coast in preparation for Florence, S.C. Adjutant General Robert Livingston said Tuesday, a number that is expected to increase as the hurricane bears down on the state.
"There are so many people that come together to make this work," Smith told The Post and Courier. "I'm a small cog in a very big wheel."
Smith, a major in the S.C. National Guard and an Army combat veteran, has been involved with the state's response to many past hurricane threats, even helping to develop operation plans.
Smith received the call Monday and worked out of the Joint Force Headquarters out of the Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday, where he is expected to remain for the week. His role is on the current operations staff, which oversees and monitors missions, makes sure they have the resources they need and coordinates with local authorities.
Hours before getting called up Monday, Smith praised his colleagues in the National Guard, saying they "protect life and limb, secure our property when we're not there and make sure that we address this natural disaster in ways that make for a quick response and get us all back in our homes as quickly as possible."
Both McMaster and Smith suspended their campaigns for governor indefinitely Monday, hitting a temporary pause button on the race eight weeks out from Election Day.
"Everybody's pulling together," Smith said. "This is truly a time when politics is pushed aside in favor of ensuring that we are one team to serve the people of our state."
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is also expected to be activated for S.C. National Guard duty Wednesday as the state's senior Army Judge Advocate General officer, according to spokesman Rob Kittle.
Wilson will be based out of the state's Emergency Operations Center for the duration of the storm in both of his official capacities, managing a team of lawyers in providing legal support for issues like authority, jurisdiction and liability, as well as working on legal agreements between South Carolina, neighboring states and the U.S. Department of Defense.
A hurricane watch has been issued from Edisto Beach north to the Virginia border as Florence barrels toward a probable landfall in the Southeast as a catastrophic storm. Landfall is expected Thursday or Thursday night.
"We should all sleep well knowing we've got all of these good people out preparing for us," Smith said, "and they're staying up late doing the work that needs to be done."