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Barrett, Haley meet in final debates

State Rep. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett on Thursday questioned each other's votes on spending and bailout legislation in their first GOP runoff debate in the governor's race.

The WORD-FM debate in Greenville was followed by a televised debate later Thursday.

Haley nearly won the primary outright with 49 percent of the vote to Barrett's 22 percent.

That makes Barrett's showing in the debates crucial in the candidates' bid to replace term-limited Gov. Mark Sanford.

The winner of Tuesday's runoff faces Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen in November.

At the end of the nearly hourlong debate, the candidates had a chance to question each other.

Haley asked about Barrett's 2008 vote in favor of a federal bailout of banks and Wall Street.

"Do you think your vote to support the $800 billion bailout was a mistake?" Haley asked.

Barrett said he wished there was a do-over for leaders.

"At that point in our history, we were in a crisis mode," Barrett said.

President Bush and business leaders pressed for his support after he initially voted against the bailout

"I had to make a decision based on the information that I had at the time and I did and I voted for it," Barrett said, noting a global financial crisis was avoided.

"Was it implemented like it should have been? No it wasn't. And I am going to continue to fight to ensure that every dollar is returned to taxpayers and it never happens again," Barrett said.

When it was Barrett's turn, he asked Haley about campaign rhetoric regarding the state's budget growing by billions.

"You've taken six budget votes and you've voted for five of them and the last one you voted 'no.' If you had it to do over, would you have voted 'yes' on all five of those budgets?"

Haley downplayed those votes.

"You know, I think the interesting thing is I think that you're pointing out a budget vote.

"What I always point out is the totality of everything that I've done," Haley said.

She said votes to sustain vetoes need to be taken into account.

"No one has been stronger to fight wasteful spending than I have. It is the reason I've gotten the taxpayer award from Governor Sanford," Haley said.

In the later televised debate, Barrett said a Republican gubernatorial ad that called him retired from the Army was a mistake.

Barrett said it was corrected and his campaign will not do that again during the debate on WIS-TV in Columbia. He said it happened in a rush to put ads on the air. He served four years in the Army and resigned his commission as a captain two decades ago.

State Rep. Nikki Haley also faced ad-related questions. Her first ad called Attorney General Henry McMaster a career politician. She embraced his endorsement after he lost the primary last week. Haley insisted he's been in office since 1986.

McMaster has been in office since 2002.