January 21, 2008
by Charles Bierbauer
John McCain has every reason to think South Carolina finally got it right. “But what’s eight years among friends?” he told reveling supporters in Charleston Saturday night.
The Republicans leave South Carolina with a cleaner taste in their mouths than in 2000. Mike Huckabee, having run a close second to McCain, told his disappointed backers that the two of them had run a “civil, good, and decent campaign” and coming in second was “better than to have run with the dishonor of attacking someone else.”
There might have been a little poll pushing and an askance assertion this time. But no one seemed to be playing from the Lee Atwater School of Politics handbook that George Bush’s attack dogs kept tucked in their pockets in 2000.
South Carolina did not owe McCain a victory. It only owed him a fair shake. He had to earn the victory and did so, on the strength of a coalition of older voters, veterans and Low Country supporters. Held his own with evangelicals, too.
The state’s tradition of selecting the eventual Republican nominee is yet to be perpetuated. It’s more uncertain than in the past, as three candidates move on to Florida with victory claims. McCain is on a two-state roll after wins in New Hampshire and here. Huckabee has not duplicated Iowa. Mitt Romney abandoned South Carolina (we’re not likely to forget), but won a largely uncontested gold for his medal collection in Nevada. And waiting in Florida is Rudy Giuliani whose campaign strategy of sitting out the first three weeks is either brilliant or nuts.
The Republicans of 2008 reveal myriad fault lines—conservative values, the economy, national security, immigration. Normally, it’s Democrats who can’t focus their issues, while Republicans have a Reagan-like core fixation. No Republican candidate has yet laid convincing claim to the Reagan mantle.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
The Democrats are back with the state to themselves for the week. Much of the candidates’ attention and that of the national media is on the African-American voters who may cast half or more of the votes in Saturday’s Democratic primary. The demographics are incontrovertible, but the African-American vote is not monolithic. Some voted this past week.
Politics makes people say ill-considered, sometimes unconscionable things. There were early assertions that Barack Obama was “not black enough.” Civil rights activist Andrew Young suggested that “Bill (Clinton) is every bit as black as Barack.”
Obama and Hillary Clinton had testy exchanges that suggested this campaign is about race. Yet neither is running an overtly race-oriented campaign. Obama happens to be black in much the same way Hillary Clinton happens to be a woman. As Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia delegate in Congress, noted on CNN this weekend, Hillary “needs men” and Obama “needs whites and Hispanics” in order to win.
Obama and Clinton get a do over chance on courting the African-American vote when they speak—along with John Edwards—at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Columbia on Monday morning and at the debate co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Monday evening in Myrtle Beach.
WHAT ABOUT 2012?
Upstate snow was less trouble than feared. Some electronic voting machines in Horry County did not work. But the Republican Party survived its primary without major incidents. The Democrats likely will, too.
We’re a state so nice that we hold our primary twice. But does it make any sense? We do get an extra week in the national spotlight. All those campaign and media folks have to eat and stay somewhere. Our local TV stations count on political advertising revenues.
The race to be first among the states has not necessarily clarified the race for the presidency. A couple of idiosyncratic states—ours included, I suppose—have inordinate impact on the process. Given a do over, would we still want to be voting in the (relative) cold of January, cramming most state primaries into February, and then mulling over—or lamenting—our choices until November?
Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 through 2000.
He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.