Thursday, January 10, 2008

South Carolina is Key to Presidential Nominations

The Chicago Tribune offers a nice analysis of South Carolina's role in shaping the nomination contests of both parties:

As the presidential candidates arrive from the chilly North , the Palmetto State is ready to welcome them with balmy weather and winnow them with a first-in-the-South primary that may provide the political equivalent of Harry Potter's "sorting hat." A conservative, heavily Republican state, rarely has South Carolina had the opportunity to play such a pivotal role in the fortunes of White House hopefuls from both parties, and never have both the Republican and the Democratic primaries taken place so early.

The growing intensity of the races and the possibility that South Carolina can make a difference has prompted excitement and contributed to the recent registration of more than 50,000 new voters in this mannerly state known for its beaches, boiled peanuts and barbecue.

South Carolina's races also represent -- with the exception of Michigan's primary next Tuesday, in which some campaigns are not participating -- the first primary tests of the candidates in such a diverse state. Compared with New Hampshire, where more than 92 percent of the population is white, South Carolina is 66 percent white, 29 percent black and 2.4 percent of Hispanic origin, according to 2000 Census Bureau figures.

"The South Carolina voters, in the sorting-out process, have looked and have supported the candidate they feel is the most viable and electable candidate," said Bruce Ransom, a political scientist at Clemson University."On the Republican side, the candidate who won here has generally gone on and gotten the nomination. I think that's possible for both parties this time."

A number of factors further burnish South Carolina's importance this time around. Not only are there tight or unsettled races on both sides, but South Carolina is wedged in an unusually short time frame between the New Hampshire primary and the massive Tsunami Tuesday lineup on Feb. 5. As a result, the state holds greater potential as a springboard for its winners and as an influence on the states that so closely follow it.

Many believe that here, where the Civil War began and the site of the Secession Convention in 1860, some embattled candidacies well may fall on their swords after the Republican primary on Jan. 19 and its Democratic counterpart on Jan. 26.

"I think there will be two winners here -- and not double digits apart -- who will go on to Florida and fight it out," said South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson of the muddled GOP field.

The results in Iowa and New Hampshire have limited influence on South Carolina beyond an initial culling of the field, he said. "We have either put an exclamation point [on their choices] and said Hallelujah, or South Carolina primary Republican voters have corrected their mistakes," he said.

"South Carolina has a habit of taking established candidates who have been knocked down in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, picking them up and putting them in the White House," said Tucker Eskew, a Washington, D.C- based consultant with extensive political experience in South Carolina, who played key roles in George W. Bush's 2000 campaign in the state and in the Bush administration.

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are examples of candidates who lost in Iowa but rode to Pennsylvania Avenue on the momentum afforded by South Carolina victories. In fact, since 1980 no candidate has become the GOP presidential nominee without winning the South Carolina primary.

For the Democrats, South Carolina this year also is crucial, demonstrating the ability to appeal to more conservative voters, which describes most voters here. "To be honest, I don't think Democrats in South Carolina have seen anything like they will see this year," said Joe Werner, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, describing the intensity of his party's tight race. "There is a lot of excitement here to be a Democrat."
South Carolina hosts a FOX News GOP presidential debate tonight. Check back here for updates on the political dynamics of the Palmetto State!


UPDATE: USA Today offers an analysis of the debate tonight in Myrtle Beach.