Gov. Henry McMaster managed to connect an anecdote about his bulldog to Samsung's expansion in South Carolina, all in response to a question about improving higher education. He met casually with a group of about 50 students, mainly members of the College Republicans, in Russell House Tuesday night to talk about his career and answer questions on major state and local issues.
"College students are at the perfect age to get involved in ... public policy and government," McMaster said. "It's a great opportunity for me to encourage people to get take an interest in it. It's your state, it's your country, and you need to know what's going on."
His campaign requested that the event be small and informal and during the College Republicans' normal meeting time. McMaster sat in the audience for the beginning of the meeting. The organization's chairwoman, Lauren Boals, said that she liked the intimate town hall format.
"National news takes a lot of the attention of people, and the state and local politics get lost in the mix," she said. "So to have him come in and be able to actually answer questions that are relevant to people's hometowns and where they live or our school directly, it's nice to hear a real, personal answer."
McMaster, who's running for re-election, ended up answering about 10 questions, ranging from a question about a local highway in Horry County from CR member Robbie Anderson to a question on SCANA and the nuclear debacle from Student Government Attorney General Frank Halloran.
"When I heard Governor McMaster was coming, I knew I had to clear time out of my schedule," Halloran said. He currently supports McMaster in the GOP primary. "He has a really, really clean record."
In addition to Halloran's energy question, one student raised the fact that South Carolinians pay $400 more annually in electric bills than the average American. Especially for financially unstable students, she said, a few hundred dollars make a big difference.
"We have an opportunity," McMaster said. "It's wrapped inside of a disaster, but we do have an opportunity."
Privatizing SCANA through a sale, he said, would help introduce competition and bring down costs. The S.C. Legislature is currently considering an offer for the public utility company from Dominion Energy, and several other companies are likely to make bids.
That emphasis on private business as a solution was a common thread throughout McMaster's responses. Before and throughout his time as governor, McMaster's platform has included decreasing taxes and regulation to draw more companies to South Carolina.
Mac Lindsay, a first-year marketing student, heard about the event through his fraternity and came to see McMaster for the first time.
"Great first impression," he said.
College Republicans frequently provides a source for local and state campaign interns, but Boals said McMaster was the first candidate whose campaign reached out about a visit. A number of attendees signed up to volunteer for McMaster, including first-year business student Robert Cathcart. He's also considering an internship program with the campaign.
The public event drew more than just McMaster supporters. Jay Selesky, the director of the campus Legislative Action Network, attended the event "trying to broaden my horizons."
With any political event, it seems inevitable that President Donald Trump will come up. McMaster was the first elected official to endorse Trump, drawing a question about their relationship.
"He's quite a man," McMaster said. He added that people always line up to get face time with Trump, but he and his wife always get a good reception. McMaster visited the White House two weeks ago.
With USC next door to his workplace, though, he said he still pays attention to what's going on around campus.
"My memories are just wonderful of undergraduate school and law school," McMaster said. "I'll be back a lot."