Auto racing - Southern 500: A first for Regan Smith

Regan Smith celebrates his first trip to Victory Lane in the Sprint Cup series after triumphing Saturday night at Darlington.

SENECA -- Talk turned to a familiar topic in South Carolina history, states' rights, during a forum for Republicans running for governor.

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, state Rep. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Henry McMaster fielded questions Thursday night at the Gignilliat Community Center, eight miles from Barrett's hometown of Westminster.

When the candidates were asked what they would do to support state sovereignty, McMaster returned to a theme he's been concentrating on recently, promising repeatedly to stand up to "radicals" in Washington.

The attorney general said he already is fighting for states' rights through his lawsuit against the insurance mandate in President Barack Obama's health care reform law, and would continue to oppose power grabs from Washington that he said violate the 10th Amendment.

"Don't tread on me," McMaster said. "We will fight."

Barrett drew applause when he complimented Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on that state's tough new law against illegal immigration, a response to what some call inaction in Washington.

"She's trying to take back her state, ladies and gentleman," Barrett said.

Barrett also said he is working with South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint on legislation that would let states keep their gas tax money and use it to build roads without having to send it to Washington first.

Bauer called for a constitutional convention as a way for states to limit federal power.

Haley said she would form a coalition with other governors and call press conferences to champion states' rights against federal intrusions.

That way, she said, voters would start looking to governors "for good, strong, conservative policies."

On a purely state matter, McMaster, Barrett and Haley said they would veto the 50-cent cigarette tax hike approved by lawmakers in Columbia.

Bauer said after the debate that he would wait to see whether there are any offsetting tax cuts in the final proposal before deciding whether a veto was in order.

Bauer continued to campaign against people taking advantage of welfare, saying, "We've got more people in the country voting than we do working for a living."

The candidates also pledged loyalty to many familiar conservative Republican positions, including school choice, public prayers and opposition to abortion.

The debate was sponsored by Conservatives Taking America Back, a Seneca-based group that advocates for reform within the Republican Party.

Many of the questions from Ed Rumsey, a retired Air Force colonel, and Polly Nicolay, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate on the Constitution Party ticket, were drawn from the platform of the South Carolina Republican Party.

Seneca Mayor Dan Alexander said before the debate that he was happy to see the candidates in town, even though he's a Democrat.