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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

South Carolina

Like the bronze medal winner at the Olympics, the third state in the nation to pick delegates tends to get a lot less attention than the first two.  But without a clear winner coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina tends to be the place candidates try to either nail down their lead or give their last gasp at relevance before Super Tuesday.

To make things more confusing, South Carolina shares third place with the Nevada Caucus and the parties hold their events on different days.  On Friday, Feb. 20, Republicans hold their South Carolina Primary while the Democrats hold their Nevada Caucus.  One Tue. Feb. 23, we have the Republican Caucus in Nevada, followed by Sat. Feb. 27 for the Democratic Primary in South Carolina.  These will be the last of the early events before Super Tuesday on March 1.

Today I will focus on South Carolina.  Next post will discuss Nevada.

In the general election, South Carolina is a solid republican State.  Only one Democrat, neighboring Gov. Jimmy Carter has one the State in more than 50 years.  Since the solid South moved from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in the 1960's and 70's, South Carolina has been solidly inside the Republican tent.  Typically, the Republican wins with a good 10% margin.

Republican Primary

For the Republicans, the South Carolina primary is pretty good at picking the ultimate nominee Take a look at past results:
  • 1980: Ronald Reagan (55%) defeated runner-up John Connally.
  • 1984: Uncontested (incumbent Reagan was re-nominated).
  • 1988: George H. W. Bush (49%) defeated runner-up Bob Dole.
  • 1992: George H. W. Bush (incumbent, 67%) defeated runner-up Pat Buchanan.
  • 1996: Bob Dole (45%) defeated runner-up Pat Buchanan.
  • 2000: George W. Bush (53%) defeated runner-up John McCain.
  • 2004: Uncontested (incumbent Bush was re-nominated).
  • 2008: John McCain (33%) defeated runner-up Mike Huckabee.
  • 2012: Newt Gingrich (40%) defeated runner-up Mitt Romney.
Only in the 2012 did SC fail  to pick the ultimate winner.  A winning strategy in the State's Republican primary seems to be an appeal to the military and to the white working class voters.  Tough talk on the military, patriotism, and a little mild racism does not seem to hurt a candidate in the SC Republican primary.

Current polls show Donald Trump with a commanding lead, over 35%.  Second is Cruz coming in at 18%.  Third looks like Rubio at about 16%.  Kasich and Bush are struggling to make double digits, with polls putting them between 9% and 10%.  Carson is still polling around 5% although his candidacy seems to resemble the walking dead at this point.  

Carson should already be gone.  If Kasich and Bush cannot show in the top three in here or the Nevada Caucuses, then they may be dead men walking by Super Tuesday and could drop out as well.  This would be good news for Rubio as the last establishment candidate.  But if Rubio still looks weak in speeches and debates, the fight for the establishment nod may push further into the primary season.

Democratic Primary:

Although SC is a solidly Republican State, the Democratic primary carries importance as an early state. Sure, none of these candidates will win the general, but it gives them a chance to prove their ability to win before a very different population than they faced in mid-west Iowa and Northeast New Hampshire.  Also, South Carolina did not secure its spot as an early primary until the 1990's.

Before 1992, South Carolina held a caucus rather than a primary.  Historically, South Carolina favors southern candidates and black candidates:
  • 1984: Jesse Jackson defeated Walter Mondale (caucus) (note also that Senator Ernst Hollings (D-SC) was running this year).
  • 1988: Jesse Jackson (55%) defeated Al Gore (caucus).
  • 1992: Bill Clinton (69%) defeated Paul Tsongas.
  • 1996: Uncontested (incumbent Clinton was renominated).
  • 2000: Al Gore (92%) defeated Bill Bradley.
  • 2004: John Edwards (45%) defeated John Kerry.
  • 2008: Barack Obama (55%) defeated Hillary Clinton and John Edwards
  • 2012: Uncontested (incumbent Obama was renominated).
The Democratic Party in South Carolina is largely African American, so a candidate's appeal to that constituency is tested here for the first time.  Bernie Sanders seems to have difficulty appealing to black voters and it shows here in the polls.  Most have Hillary Clinton polling around 50% with Sanders trailing at around 35% and with most of the rest undecided.  Hillary's lead has slowly falling against all candidates over the past year of polling, but there is little evidence to show that it will plummet much further.  Lacking some major shift, expect an easy but not huge victory for Clinton on primary day.

Democrats will focus on race and civil right issues in an attempt to win here.  We've seen Bernie meeting with black leaders and hanging round Harlem when he is not campaigning in the State. Hillary has already sown up a great many endorsements of black leaders which she hopes will help carry the State.

To sum up, no big surprises expected here.  Current front runners Trump and Clinton should take easy wins. The big fight to watch in this race seems to be the one for third place among the Republican establishment candidates of Rubio, Kasich, and Bush.


  1. Rubio really self-destructed in New Hampshire. He was, IMHO, the Repbulicans' best hope of retaking the White House.

  2. Rubio definitely stumbled in NH based on his debate performance. Still, he looks like he is holding third place ahead of Kasich and Bush. If he can continue to hold this position through Super Tuesday, he becomes the de facto candidate for everyone who hates Trump and Cruz.