By Paul Gable
The rough and tumble nature of Horry County politics was on display for all to see Thursday night at the debate for 7th Congressional Republican candidates.
Sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Strand Business Alliance, WMBF-TV and WPDE-TV, the debate turned into a shouting match when five of the candidates felt they were being ignored by the questioning media panel.
The candidates were apparently split into two groups by some entity controlling the questions. The top four polling candidates, Andre Bauer, Chad Prosser, Tom Rice and Jay Jordan, received the bulk of the questions during the first hour of the debate while the remaining five, Randal Wallace, Katherine Jenrette, Jim Mader, Renee Culler and Dick Withington, were virtually ignored.
After the apparent questioning trend was set in the first half hour of the debate, Wallace cut in to complain, “I filed to run for Congress and I’d like to answer a question.”
During the next half hour the atmosphere went quickly downhill. Mader left the podium to get chairs for the candidates who were being ignored. Jenrette, an Army veteran, said she didn’t serve in Afghanistan to have her First Amendment rights ignored in Horry County. debate Culler ripped into the media for the polling that allegedly made the “preferred four” favorites in the race.
The audience got into the act booing questions to the “preferred four” and heckling their answers. Moderator Charles Bierbauer had completely lost control of the proceedings.
The final half hour was different as Bierbauer apparently decided to ask each question of all nine candidates. The “ignored five” got a real chance to participate and the proceedings were much smoother.
Before its 11 p.m. news broadcast, WPDE-TV issued a disclaimer that it was not involved in deciding the order of the questions or who they were to be directed to.
Grand Strand Daily learned Friday morning that the questions appeared on teleprompters for the media panel with the names of the candidates to whom they were supposed to be directed.
A member of the audience, with a view of a teleprompter, said the initial question for the final half hour of the 90 minute debate came up with Bauer’s name on it, but Bierbauer ignored the directions and asked the same question of all the candidates. The remaining questions were asked of all nine candidates as the media panel ignored instructions on the teleprompters.
Who decided the order and direction of the questions remains a mystery, but the following observations may be pertinent.
The softest questions to the “preferred four” seemed to be lobbed at Rice and Prosser, both with connections to the chamber and business alliance. The toughest seemed to be aimed at Bauer, the current front runner in polls. Jordan, said to be second in latest polls, was somewhat ignored and marginalized in this grouping, but still fared better than the “ignored five.”
Why invite all nine candidates if you are going to virtually ignore five of them?
The spontaneous insurrection ignited by Wallace was more than justified and the crowd reaction was right on the money.
If the goal was to help Rice and Prosser in the final days before the voting, it failed miserably. What was happening onstage was apparent to anyone watching. Wallace, Jenrette and Culler came out on top of the night.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott