The Primaries: Palmetto Power

Now listen up, South Carolinians. If you have a hankering for retail politics presidential style, the time is now. South Carolina Republicans will be holding their presidential primary on Saturday, February 20, and the Democrats on Saturday, February 27. Any registered voter in the state has the opportunity to vote in one or the other (but not both). For reasons that are strategic if not all that democratic, national rules in both major parties favor and protect our state as one of the three or four where the presidential contest is to be launched. The others are Iowa, New Hampshire, and, by a stretch, Nevada. As a proud South Carolinian, all I can say about that is, well, bless their hearts! This is why serious Republican and Democratic candidates (to say nothing of the media folks who accompany them) are paying us visits, debating each other here, answering questions, maybe dropping by your restaurant table or posing with you in your selfies, and doing everything else they morally or legally can to win your support and primary vote. Presidential politics, up close and personal. Primaries and caucuses have become the way an ordinary voter can influence the nomination of a Democratic or Republican presidential candidate by voting to send to the convention delegates pledged to the candidate of the voter’s choice. Although rules in both parties still provide that some convention delegates are to be drawn from the party elites, most of the delegates a candidate needs to win nomination are sent by the votes of people taking part in state-by-state primaries and caucuses. But do be aware that when our primaries here in South Carolina are over, the candidates will leave, reappearing in many of the places which do not enjoy our status as a front-loading state. All this leads up to the national conventions, coming this summer, when the major parties will certify their presidential nominees. The Republicans are scheduled to meet in Cleveland July 18-21, the Democrats in Philadelphia July 25-28. After that, with just one presidential candidate apiece still standing, the Democratic and Republican general election campaigns will take a radical turn. The nominees and even their advertising will largely disappear both from the bright red (Republican) states like South Carolina and from those that are deep blue (Democratic). The campaigns will be waged almost entirely in the so-called “swing” or purple states, only about a quarter of the 50, where the election outcome really could go either way. The reason should be obvious but may not be: it is the state by state winner-takes-all way our Electoral College system works almost everywhere and the fact that a vote for the Democratic nominee in a safe Republican state or a Republican vote in a safe Democratic one will really count for nothing in determining who becomes the president-elect. So if you are a political junky or just get a charge from hanging out with traveling salespeople, one of whom might be on the way to becoming our nation’s Commander in Chief, act soon. The candidates will be here, and not out of the goodness of their hearts. They are here because they know that our state’s presidential primaries and your support in them are important steps in their quest for the White House. South Carolina’s primaries are often deemed crucial because they come so early. As the “first in the South,” they can influence the outcome of votes in primaries and caucuses immediately following South Carolina’s, particularly those in other Southern states. A fierce internal battle is now being waged inside the GOP: elite v. outsiders, establishment v. insurgents, and the polls all show the anti-establishment candidates leading. Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, in South Carolina all of the delegates allocated on Republican primary day will go to the candidate who comes in number one in the popular vote. Palmetto State Republicans pride themselves that from 1980 on they have, with but one exception, given their delegates to the candidate who then went on to take the Republican nomination. This year they could slow Donald Trump’s momentum, giving some time for an establishment candidate try to catch up. Or by their vote, they might transform Trump’s nomination quest into an unstoppable force. Bill and Hillary Clinton are popular folks in the African American community, and predictions are that black voters will make up nearly half of those who participate in this state’s 2016 Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders currently is tied with Hillary in Iowa and far ahead of her in New Hampshire. Palmetto State Democrats award their delegates in proportion to the primary vote shares the candidates receive. Even so, what momentum Sanders will perhaps have received in the earliest states may be slowed or halted in South Carolina and in states which follow. But as the late Yogi Berra is reported to have said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” Stay tuned. And don’t forget to vote on February 20 or 27. (Now retired and living in Charleston, David Gillespie and his wife Judi resided in Clinton from 1979 to 2006. At PC, David taught political science and Judi served as financial aid director.)

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