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Haley, Sheheen settle on two debates in late October

South Carolina's two major candidates for governor agreed to two debates Friday, but their campaigns still were left arguing.

The debates will be held on back-to-back days in October, about a week from the Nov. 2 Election Day. ETV will air one debate statewide from Columbia on Oct. 25. Francis Marion and Coastal Carolina universities will join with Florence and Myrtle Beach news outlets to host an Oct. 26 debate.

Democratic nominee Vincent Sheheen of Camden has pressed Republican opponent Nikki Haley for weeks to accept a proposal for a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates across the state.

Haley's campaign said Friday the Lexington Republican will accept four debate invitations. But Sheheen said Haley had not spoken with his campaign about the details prior to the announcement.

"We've been trying to get them to debate for two or three weeks so obviously this is kind of a gimmick that they're popping," Sheheen said, renewing his call for a debate that allowed back-and-forth between the candidates.

Instead, Haley is pressing for the sound-bite-driven debates that television favors, in which candidates ignore questions asked and respond instead with poll-proven catch phrases.

"She talks really well in 30 seconds or a minute," said Sheheen. "[But] we need much more in-depth discussion so we can talk about the real issues of the state."

Sheheen's campaign agreed to two of the four debates listed on Haley's announcement. The fate of proposed Charleston and Spartanburg debates was up in the air Friday.

Also unknown was whether Green and United Citizens parties nominee Morgan Bruce Reeves would participate.

Both candidates appeared at a Greenville business forum Friday.

There, Haley said debates should reach voters across the state.

"It was a campaign decision to make the debates where they were," Haley said. "Our goal was to make sure one was entered in every region of the state and to make sure they were televised."

At the time that Sheheen called for five Lincoln-Douglas debates, spokesman Rob Godfrey said Haley would refrain from "allowing our opponent to unilaterally determine the locations, formats and topics of those debates."

However, Sheheen spokesman Trav Robertson said that's exactly what Haley's campaign did, not responding to certified mail or returning phone calls to negotiate debate dates and locations.

The disagreement over debates overshadowed the Greenville forum, hosted by members of the state's biotechnology industry.

Haley said government should focus on business incentives and not mandates. As to how she would address a $1 billion state budget deficit that looms next year, Haley said fixing the problem hinges on reduced spending, not increased revenues.

"We won't know the waste until we jump in," she said, when asked to outline specific budget cuts that she supports. "Have I started looking at it? Yes. I'm a numbers girl, that's what I do."

Haley said programs that work will have a higher priority.

On recruiting businesses to the state, Sheheen drew a distinction between traditional entrepreneurs and those in biotech and other high-tech fields. All jobs are important, Sheheen said, but high-tech industries that can spin off other jobs should be a higher priority for state economic development investments.

"It [resources] should go to more knowledge-based businesses," Sheheen said.