Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – Congressman Joe Wilson and challenger Sean Carrigan faced off Tuesday at River Bluff High School for a debate organized by the school’s Center for Law and Global Policy Development and the League of Women Voters. The students did most of the work in preparation for the debate and then actively participated in every role during the event from the welcome to the presentation of the questions. The young man who sang the National Anthem was extraordinary, too.
Wilson, the incumbent and a Republican, and Carrigan, the challenger and Democrat, were both cordial, although it appeared at times as if Carrigan was not only challenging Wilson, but the rules set forth by the moderator. At one point, the moderator, who was The Center’s adult teacher/advisor, called Carrigan down for an unearned rebuttal, yet he continued to speak. This was a small foul in comparison to other political debates on a larger scale that have sometimes disintegrated into verbal brawls in the national press. Compared to those, this was a lovefest. Several times, the candidates even agreed on issues.
The questions were from a broad area of current political events, well thought out, and well presented by the students. Everything pertinent to modern happenings was discussed. Questions went from national defense, Russian meddling in the 2016 election cycle, and the immigrant caravans heading toward our borders to background checks for gun sales, tariff threats, and the murder of the journalist in Turkey allegedly by the Saudis. Both men occasionally agreed, but it was obvious that Wilson was for less government and is a traditional conservative representative, and if elected, Carrigan would be the more liberal, more government is better government kind of man.
Carrigan sees SC District 2, the one in play, as being worse now than when Wilson took office 17 years ago. Wilson countered by continuing to point out that SC and America have a robust economy, more jobs that pay better for every one of every color, gender, race, and nationality, and a better standing with the average Americans than it’s had in years. Wilson’s experience showed in this regard as he touted programs that he’s worked on since first being appointed or elected to local offices in Lexington County decades ago.
A few of Carrigan’s jabs were so far off Wilson’s chin, it almost made the heavily Republican crowd cheer. As a case in point, Carrigan made mention of the fact that Wilson’s family is involved in the ownership of Palmetto State Armory, a gun manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer. Although Carrigan apparently thought this might earn him points with the crowd, to the average Republican voter in attendance and in the district, this elevated Wilson to hero status. You could almost feel some wondering if Wilson could hook them up with a family discount. This showed how out of touch Carrigan is with the current-day Lexington County voters. His crowd may grow here one day, but it doesn’t appear as if this is that day.
Of course, Carrigan and his small band of supporters in attendance think he won. Certainly, Wilson’s camp feels the same. The almost insurmountable problem for Carrigan will be that the district is made up of more than 60% deep south Republicans. Most of those voters believe that President Trump, and by association Wilson, have done a fine job with the economy, defense, immigration, and more importantly regaining the pride that many in the heavily Republican entrenched district think we lost through eight years of President Obama, and maybe in some Republican administrations before him.
Carrigan’s message of using more sanctions for Russia and North Korea without meaningful negotiation, universal background checks to purchase firearms, Medicare for all, a $15.00 minimum wage, and allowing groups of illegal immigrants to come into America and apply for asylum before being set loose in the country while their applications are being considered, seemed to ring hollow. Remember his audience was mostly made up of students from River Bluff High School. This is an opulent school with a chance to get one of the best educations in the nation. These are students who come from a largely affluent areas and have parents who are professional, well educated, and often own the businesses who would be paying those $15.00 per hour wages to a career laborer with no education, desire, or means to advance.
In short, Lexington County, especially the area that feeds into River Bluff, has almost no Democrats in positions of power and hasn’t for decades. To the students and the majority of the voters in attendance Tuesday, a man with Carrigan’s ideology is as foreign as an exotic animal in a zoo. Although River Bluff is in the center of the district, the crowd probably would have looked and leaned a bit differently if the debate had been held in the small portion of the district that extends into Orangeburg County.
Carrigan did his best, but without the miracle of a huge crossover vote that abandons their traditional Republican values at the polls, Wilson will win comfortably. Without some miracle that befalls Carrigan, come November 7th, he will return to being just a common man without a seat in congress. The only way that Joe Wilson gets beat in SC-2 is if he gives up the seat, makes a tremendous goof larger that the “you lie” episode, which helped him, not hurt him by the way, or passes peacefully in his sleep beside his dear wife Roxanne.
The debate was great, well produced, and the students and staff did an excellent job. The location was a brilliant stroke of luck or strategy by the Wilson camp. Don’t expect any surprises next Tuesday.