With all of the confusion after the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses and creeping nastiness seeming to shape the party’s New Hampshire primary, look for South Carolina to come to the rescue to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.
Biden, long at the top of national polls, came up short in Iowa, but that’s not surprising. He got a late start there and had not spent as much time as in other places. Plus, it was a caucus, meaning most people didn’t participate, leaving the results — or whatever you call the Iowa mess — to tilt toward activists.
New Hampshire, which heavily skews white like Iowa, is less of a bellwether this time around as two major candidates on the left, U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren, will duke it out to be hometown favorite.
Then there’s Nevada and South Carolina. Nevada looks more like the rest of America but is a caucus state, too, meaning it will provide an incomplete snapshot of Democratic sentiment.
But South Carolina, where more than one-third of voters overall are minorities, will be home to the first real contest with a truly representative cross-section of Democrats to evaluate presidential contenders at the polls.
And so far here, Biden has multiple advantages. First, he’s got experience in governance, which is something South Carolinians tend to reward. Look at how many years they elected Strom Thurmond, Fritz Hollings and Joe Riley.
Second, he’s familiar, having made South Carolina a kind of second home through the years. He’s developed deep relationships that have paid off in a huge number of endorsements. In a state like South Carolina, those endorsements — particularly from black leaders and ministers — are vital.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt in the black community, which will have more than a majority of voters in the Democratic primary, that he served as President Barack Obama’s second-in-command. Obama has god-like status among black voters, and Biden gets a huge spin-off from that.
These positives don’t mean it won’t be tough for gaffe-prone Biden, but his more moderate, establishment views should prevail over the party’s left, highlighted by Sanders and Warren. The guy in second place in the state, Tom Steyer, has spent millions to push a message that blends traditional politics with climate change.
Also in the news recently was a plot by some Upstate Republican leaders to interfere with the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 29 by encouraging GOP voters to show up at the Democratic polls to vote for Sanders. Their logic: Sanders would be an easier candidate for President Donald Trump to beat, and that could help dispense with Biden at the same time.
Let’s hope these shenanigans don’t happen. Republicans had a chance to have a presidential primary and punted. A former state governor, Mark Sanford, launched a bid against Trump but couldn’t get the backing of state Republicans to offer voters a choice.
What’s ironic about the whole primary meddling thing is that those calling for it are trying to encourage state lawmakers to have closed party primaries — to make it so that only registered Republicans or registered Democrats can vote in party primaries. The Palmetto State currently doesn’t have voter registration by party.
Not only would this disenfranchise independents, who comprise approximately one-third of state voters, but it’s hypocritical to the core. Perhaps some of the new-arrival Republicans don’t have the historical framework to understand that the reason the Grand Old Party was able to flourish in South Carolina was exactly because it allowed white voters to pick between primaries in the 1960s and 1970s. In days when Thurmond and others switched to the Republican Party, it helped their efforts to have old-time Democrats have the ability to decide which primary to cast their ballot in.
Now, these Upstate yahoos want to change this, which will make things even more partisan in a place that’s too partisan already.
Let South Carolina’s Democrats pick the candidate they believe will best serve the country.
Republicans will get their chance at the polls in November.