Ahhh, South Carolina. Land of southern beauty and hospitality. I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the state, but all of the photos and video I’ve seen of it are charming and beautiful. But if I wanted to go there on the cheap, I’d declare myself as a Democratic candidate for President, and let my campaign coffers pay for the junket.
With an ever growing list of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, South Carolina is about to become a very busy patch of southern political soil. Senators Corey Booker and Bernie Sanders are both holding events in South Carolina today, and as more Democrats declare their candidacy, visits to the state will ensue shortly thereafter. You want to retire in the summer of 2020? Start a business making placards, yard signs and bumper stickers today.
There is a solid political reason why South Carolina is going to be such a popular political stomping grounds for Democratic candidates for the next year. Its demographic make up. Traditionally, the campaign primary season starts with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries. Both of those are majority white states, with low minority populations. Next on the primary calendar is South Carolina, and as former SC Democratic chair Jaime Harrison puts it;
,Why is South Carolina important?” said Jaime Harrison, a former chair of the state Democratic Party. “It’s important because it’s the first state that these candidates will get an opportunity to vet their message with a population that reflects the heart of the Democratic Party, which is African-Americans and specifically African-American women.”
Bingo. South Carolina is the first state in the primary calendar where the majority of Democratic primary voters are going to be African American, the portion of the Democratic base that was crucial in helping to drive the “blue wave” in 2018. The South Carolina primary will be the first test of these candidates mettle, not only holding out the possibility of gaining some early separation in the primary race, but gauging their potential strength or weakness with a base that will not only be important in the primaries, but critical in a general election.
For potential candidates Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, the state is an early barometer of their popularity and viability. Not only against each other, although it will be a useful yardstick, but in general. If either one of them does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, and scores big in South Carolina, then their message is resonating across demographics. A middling to poor showing in South Carolina following poor performances in the two previous states may signal an early trip to the showers.
But the state is critically important to white candidates of both sexes as well. In a crowded field, a strong showing in South Carolina can offer a candidate that precious separation from other poorer finishers, and the potential of more separation in the more industrialized states to come. For instance, it should have been a big, flashing, red “danger” sign for Bernie Sanders when he only captured 26% of the vote in 2016. In a field with only two major, serious contenders, that should have been an alarm claxon. In a field with potentially 10 times that number? It could be a death knell for several candidates.
My guess is that as the summer spins out, and early polling from early primary states begins to become more frequent, Quite a few candidates, especially the ones high in the second tier, will practically have summer cottages there. They’ll want to give a rally or speech, watch the polling for its effect, and if unsatisfactory, tweak and fine tune the message, and then try again to see if it moes the needle.If a message or theme is resonating well in South Carolina, then it becomes a mainstay in appearances in other high density African American states and locations. And of course, that AFrican American polling to messaging is going to have to be cross checked with how it’s playing in non African American demographics. Politics is such a chore.
So, you might want to resign yourself to the fact that for the next year, you’re going to be seeing a whole bunch of magnolias, and oodles of porticoes on the news. And if you live in South Carolina, and you have a cozy little bed-and-breakfast, you might want to gussy up the place a bit, and make the sign a tad larger. Because you’re likely to have a lot of people with cameras hanging around for the next year or so.
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