Three Democratic gubernatorial candidates fighting to lead the Palmetto State

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - There are three Democratic candidates fighting to become the next Governor of South Carolina.

The most recent Target-Insyght pre-election poll suggests a near three-way tie between current South Carolina representative and attorney James Smith, Florence native and corporate attorney Marguerite Willis, and Charleston businessman Phil Noble.

Smith and Noble both have 27 percent of Democratic voter support, while Willis has 21 percent.

New poll results haven't been released since April because Target-Insyght said nearly 50 percent of Democratic voters are either undecided or unaware of who the candidates are.

Both spoke beforehand, along with Smith's running mate and South Carolina representative, Mandy Powers-Norrell, who spoke on Smith's behalf.

She has served in the State House alongside Smith the past six years.

"On day one James Smith, with a stroke of his pen, will expand health care coverage for all South Carolinians," Powers-Norrell said. "That's reason enough to vote for him right there."

She added the expansion of health care coverage would create 40,000 new jobs and provide an $11 billion economic impact in S.C.

Smith is an Afghanistan combat veteran and current major in the South Carolina Army National Guard. One of his endorsements is from former Vice President Joe Biden.

"He's authored 50 pieces of major legislation that he's gotten through in a Republican-controlled legislature. It shows he has bipartisan appeal and that's something I've seen firsthand," Powers-Norrell said.

Challenger Phil Noble is a businessman and technology consultant who calls himself an outsider. However, he thinks that's what South Carolina needs and he wants to change what he sees as a broken, corrupt government.

"Those changes aren't going to happen with people who have been a part of that system, be it career politicians or big-time corporate lawyers with all their lobbyists. It's going to take outsiders to change the system," Noble said.

Noble has worked as a businessman for his company, Phil Noble and Associates, in more than 40 countries around the world. He is also the founder of three statewide nonprofits.

"First thing we've got to do is totally reinvent public education," Noble said. "We're already 50 on education so it's not like we can screw this up. We've got to do something fundamentally different."

Marguerite Willis is following closely behind her opponents with 21 percent backing.

Willis has a passion for those who she said have been forgotten in the state.

"The folks who live where I live in the Pee Dee and poverty-stricken areas, the folks who are hungry and the folks who need healthcare, and most importantly the children," Willis said.

If elected, Willis plans to expand Medicaid and will advocate to pass an equal pay law.

"Women are really at the bottom of the barrel as far as treatment with regard to domestic abuse, childcare and others," Willis said. "I think at the end of the day what South Carolina really needs is a leader who has a heart of a lion and a backbone of steel, and that's what I am."

The primary election is June 12 and a runoff, if necessary, will be held June 26.

Copyright 2018 WMBF News. All rights reserved.