Showing posts with label south carolina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label south carolina. Show all posts


The Veepstakes: Mark Sanford

One name that keeps being mentioned as a rising political star is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican currently serving his second term. Sanford may be the governor of a relatively small state, but he is far from a political unknown. After George Allen's "macaca" meltdown, some pundits looked to Sanford to fill the void left by the former Virginia senator as a consensus conservative by running for president this year. There were even a few Draft Sanford movements online that persist to this day.

Sanford is young, handsome, a Washington outsider, and a strong fiscal conservative. The anti-tax wing of the GOP would love to see him on the ticket. He is also a small government Republican with a libertarian streak. So he would appear to complement John McCain in that regard.

However, he might not be the best pick for McCain because even though Sanford is a relatively popular second-term governor, he will likely have a lot of explaining to do for his South Carolina record. The problem isn't so much Sanford as it is the legislature he has to work with. His libertarianism has been a common source of friction between him and the state legislature. The South Carolina legislature routinely overrides his vetoes and behaves in such a way that polarizes large segments of the state's population. So the legislature's antics are marring Sanford's record.

South Carolina's government is overwhelmingly Republican. The lieutenant governorship and all statewide offices are controlled by Republicans. The only Democratic statewide office holder is Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. Republicans have a 73-51 advantage in the state house and a 27-19 advantage in the state senate. Both senators and four out of the six congressmen are Republicans. So Democratic opposition can't really be blamed for South Carolina's ills.

For example, the South Carolina legislature recently passed a bill allowing Christians to profess their faith by the creation of a license plate displaying a cross and the words "I Believe." The bill passed the legislature unanimously and became law without Governor Sanford's signature. (Many legislators thought it was a bad bill, but nobody wanted to see their name in an attack ad claiming "they voted against God.") Opponents of the bill have filed a lawsuit claiming that this license plate violates the separation of church and state because similar license plates for other faiths do not exist and would have to meet far more restrictions before being approved, such as not being able to incorporate any text.

South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer even offered to personally pay the $4000 fee required by the Department of Motor Vehicles to begin production of the plates. In light of the potential lawsuit, Bauer remained defiant:

"We're not going to back down. We're going to fight for a change. I'm tired of seeing Christians back down in fear of a lawsuit."
It is worth noting that South Carolina has a very strong evangelical Christian presence. Blue laws are still enforced, as some businesses are not allowed to open before 1:30pm on Sundays. Sunday alcohol sales were prohibited until voters finally overturned that law at the ballot box this spring. Legislation banning sex toys even made it to the house floor two years ago.

Knowing the history of Christian conservative influence on South Carolina's government, this license plate controversy should not come as a surprise. But should Sanford be tapped to be McCain's running mate, he will likely have to take a stance on the license plate issue at the risk of exacerbating McCain's problems with the evangelical wing of the party or alienating the moderates and independents he desperately needs. These moderates and independents (and even some conservatives) are devout Christians, but many of them are also increasingly uncomfortable with the blurring of the lines between politics and faith. This could also bolster Barack Obama because his message of inclusion and unity could contrast with the South Carolina legislature's polarization. Sanford would also have to explain why he never signed (or vetoed) the bill or why he couldn't keep his lieutenant governor in check.

To be fair, Mark Sanford has tried to control the legislature with his veto pen, but the legislature commonly overrides his vetoes and enacts policies that are fiscally unwise or otherwise divisive. This doesn't matter to Sanford's political opponents because they will claim that as the chief executive of the state, ultimate responsibility for the state rests with him.

It is also worth noting that Sanford did not endorse McCain before the South Carolina primary in January. McCain narrowly won that contest, but by not endorsing him when he needed it most, Sanford likely lost a bit of his clout in the McCain camp. He did eventually endorse McCain, but by then, absent an unbelievable comeback by Mike Huckabee, it was clear McCain would be the nominee. By contrast, Florida Governor Charlie Crist endorsed McCain shortly before the hotly contested Florida primary, thus burnishing his standing with McCain through his loyalty.

Looking at the electoral map, Sanford doesn't do much more than solidify Republican support in the South. However, the South is the base of the GOP. If McCain is unable to carry this region on his own, then he has a serious problem that cannot be remedied with Sanford or any other candidate. At the very best, Sanford could make it a bit tougher for Barack Obama to pick off North Carolina and Georgia, but Sanford will be of little help in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

His fiscal conservatism should help McCain win New Hampshire, but again, that is a state that McCain should be competitive in without any help. After all, he won that state's Republican primary in 2000 and 2008. So all in all, Sanford is neither an offensive nor defensive pick. He doesn't help hold Republican states that are significantly threatened (he won't be of much help in Virginia or Ohio) and he doesn't help McCain pick up vulnerable Democratic ones either (e.g., Pennsylvania).

In addition to this, Sanford's national profile is a bit too low. Voters outside of the South know very little about him. The brand of Republicanism he and his legislature practiced in South Carolina may make these voters less comfortable with McCain because South Carolina Republicanism is very different from the more moderate brand of Republicanism one can see in Colorado or Wisconsin. Democrats will probably attempt to tie Sanford to the evangelical wing of the party, thus making a McCain-Sanford ticket less appealing in the competitive states McCain needs to win. Running up the score in Kentucky and Alabama will not get him to 270.

All in all, Mark Sanford may look like a strong contender on paper, but he appears to introduce a lot of controversies that McCain can ill afford. Unfortunately for Sanford, many of these controversies are not due to his own actions, but rather to the tribalistic actions of the state legislature he has limited control over. And because his endorsement was "a day late and a dollar short," he would not appear to have the inside track to the vice presidential nomination. The fact that he doesn't do much to expand McCain's map the way Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge, or Tim Pawlenty does should serve as another disqualifying factor.

(For two very comprehensive and well written South Carolina blogs, I recommend reading The Palmetto Scoop and Elonkey.)

Next installment: Joe Biden


The Conservative Christian Contradiction

The impetus for this post came from three events:

1. One of the more active discussions currently taking place in the blogosphere, at least as it pertains to my blogroll, is a discussion about intelligent design over at According to Nikki, a conservative political satire blog written by Nikki Richards. In her post, which has generated more than 20 comments, Richards suggested that both intelligent design and evolution be taught as "legitimate 'theories' in science," presumably in public schools.

2. Earlier this month, residents of Columbia, South Carolina, where I live, voted by a more than 2 to 1 margin to allow alcohol sales on Sunday, with the exception of liquor. For those who are unaware, blue laws are still in effect throughout South Carolina and other Southern states. For example, shops in the western half of Columbia, located in Lexington County, are not allowed to open until 1:30pm on Sundays while shops in the eastern half of the city, which lies in Richland County, can open at 10:00 or 11:00.

3. Before the GOP nomination was settled, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney were heavily criticized by the religious wing of the Republican Party. The criticism of Romney was unfair, as it pertained to his Mormon faith, which made lots of evangelical Christians uncomfortable. The thrice married and socially moderate Giuliani was simply out of step with the conservative base on issues like abortion and gay rights. And John McCain was not trusted because he once referred to Christian conservative heavyweights Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents of intolerance" and did not make social issues the centerpiece of his campaign. This is what made Mike Huckabee so popular among the frequent churchgoers.

These three seemingly unrelated issues strike at one of the main problems confronting the modern Republican Party. One could argue that there are four main wings of the GOP: religious/social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, anti-tax conservatives, and defense hawks. But on a broader and more important level, today's Republican Party consists primarily of an awkward coalition of Southern religious conservatives and Western libertarian conservatives. Moderate Republicans from the Northeast and Midwest are a dying breed.

During the Bush administration, the Southern religious brand of conservatism has had the stronger influence regarding the party platform. This has held true for issues like gay marriage, stem cell research, and curbing abortion rights. John McCain, on the other hand, represents the Western, more libertarian brand of conservatism. Thus, his commitment to these issues is suspect.

Here's the problem: One of the principal tenets of conservatism is the idea of "limited government." It is an easily digestible slogan that clearly allows voters to understand the difference between Republicans and Democrats. However, the agendas of religious conservatives and libertarian conservatives are incompatible in this regard.

Consider the Nikki Richards blog post I cited earlier about teaching schoolchildren intelligent design. Surely there are lots of conservative politicians who agree with her and some who would like to take things a bit further by instituting prayer in the classroom or putting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. But wouldn't the government's mandating of increasing the profile of religion (namely Christianity) in the public square and public classrooms reek of the same "big government" initiatives conservatives commonly criticize liberals of advocating? This is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of intelligent design, school prayer, or the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. However, the contradiction is obvious.

Regarding blue laws, "big government" has infringed upon people's freedom to buy alcoholic beverages whenever they choose. I spent my childhood and adolescent years living in Germany, where alcohol was sold everyday. And I lived in Japan from 2003 to 2007. Like Germany, Japan also has 24-hour alcohol sales, but they even have vending machines that sell alcoholic beverages. So coming back to South Carolina, a staunchly conservative state, it was a surprise to not be allowed to buy wine on a Sunday even though I wanted to use it for cooking rather than drinking.

Defenders of blue laws claim that they are necessary to promote and preserve public morality. But aren't these advocates guilty of trying to use the government to shape society's values in the same way that they criticize "activist judges" and liberals in general for doing when it comes to discussing homosexuality and anything but abstinence in public schools?

To further muddy the waters, libertarian conservatives don't really care one way or the other about these issues, so long as they are decided at the state or local level. And if the local voters decide to do something they fundamentally disagree with, they accept it as a consequence of the will of the voters. But religious conservatives would be more likely to recoil in horror and take steps to overturn such a verdict that is out of line with their beliefs.

The constitutional bans on gay marriage were a major issue in several states in 2004 and are largely credited with George Bush's reelection. Several states have also placed similar bans on the ballot since then. However, consider these three results: Conservative Mississippi overwhelmingly approved the ban, similarly conservative South Dakota almost defeated the ban, and equally conservative Arizona became the first state to actually have the initiative rejected outright by voters. All three states are easy layups for Republicans in presidential elections, so why did they yield such different results? It's because their brands of conservatism are different.

Since John McCain's initial repudiation of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, he has made nice with the religious conservative community. At a time when Republicans are not particularly enthusiastic about their political fortunes (though the bickering between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may change that), McCain knows that he will need their support in the general election. But the only way to win this support is to pursue their agenda even if it contradicts his own principles.

Religious conservatives may talk about the importance of "small government," but it seems they very much want "big government" when it comes to promoting or protecting the causes that are important to them. Likewise, libertarian conservatives value "small government" as well. However, what if this "limited government" approach to governance leads to the adoption of laws and ordinances that are morally offensive to large numbers of voters?

Public morality and limited influence from Washington are both attractive political messages. However, it is becoming increasingly clear these two goals are often incompatible. Were Clinton and Obama not so busy highlighting the divisions that exist among the Democrats, would the spotlight not be on their equally divided conservative opposition?


On Electoral Behavior and the Credibility of Polling

The polling industry was rocked when Hillary Clinton won a come from behind victory in the New Hampshire primary despite the fact that the question raised by almost every poll taken immediately beforehand was not whether she would lose, but rather by how much. Pundits commonly talked about the Bradley effect, in which voters lie to pollsters about their willingness to support a candidate of color only to abandon this candidate in the privacy of the voting booth because of their own unspoken prejudices. Other pundits looked for other possible causes for Clinton's "silent surge." These reasons ranged from being emotionally-based (e.g., Clinton's crying) to institutionally-based (e.g., Clinton did better among Democratic establishment-types) to psychosocially-based (e.g., the male candidates were slighting Clinton much like the way many women feel the men in their professional and personal lives slight them). All of these explanations had some legitimacy.

The sheer margin of Barack Obama's surprisingly strong finish has emerged as the dominant storyline coming out of the South Carolina primary. However, there's another storyline that warrants further examination--the fact that the polls got it wrong again. According to Real Clear Politics, most major polls taken before the primary had Obama winning by anywhere from 7 to 15 points. (Obama ended up winning by 28.) And the Rolling Stone was warning that the high percentage of undecideds could spell potential disaster for Obama.

So what happened this time, especially since the polling for Clinton and Edwards turned out to be far more accurate?

Explanation 1: There is something of a "reverse Bradley effect" in which voters who really do support Obama tell pollsters they don't simply because they don't want to contribute to the popular media/political storyline about how diverse Obama's supporters are or how much Obama is relying on the Black vote. As I wrote about here, there was a very real possibility that pundits, the media, and (almost certainly) the Clinton campaign would try to spin Obama's victory as the inevitable result of an electorate that was simply too difficult (e.g., too Black) for any other candidate to overcome. If this is indeed what's going on, then that would make it even more difficult to accurately poll Obama in the future. Who are the nonsupporters saying "yes" to Obama out of political correctness, and who are the true supporters saying "no" to Obama out of political strategizing?

Explanation 2: Voters concluded at the last minute that the Clinton campaign did not deserve their vote. Exit polls showed that more voters, including more White voters, thought that Hillary Clinton had run an unfair campaign. Had the election taken place a few days later, perhaps this disdain could have been reflected in the polls. So if this scenario explains what happened in South Carolina, then the polls were right all along and simply suffered from the fact that this disdain on behalf of the voters was a lagging indicator.

Explanation 3: John Edwards is being used as a repository for hidden votes. The South Carolina press was particularly bullish on Edwards and speculated that he could make a real run for second place. Could this perceived surge in Edwards' support really have been a reflection of this hidden Obama vote? Edwards performed miserably among Black voters despite aggressively courting them in his campaign ads. Were Black voters feigning support for Edwards because they didn't want to inflate Clinton's numbers? Obviously, if Clinton's polling displayed an upward trajectory, she would spin that as having "cross-racial" appeal or simply being a stronger candidate overall than Obama. This, in turn, would fuel "is Obama in trouble?"-types of stories. Similarly, one of Clinton's perceived advantages was how she could lock up the women's vote. However, she lost women to Obama by 24 points and tied Edwards among men. Were men feigning support for Edwards even though they were really for Obama? Were these phony Edwards supporters also gaming the system?

Explanation 4: Voters are sick of polling and campaign advertisements and are simply telling the pollsters and campaign workers what they want to hear in order to get them off the phone as quickly as possible. In the days leading up to the primary, I would commonly receive about 10-15 calls a day from campaign workers asking me who I was voting for or reminding me to vote. I also received countless other recorded messages from the candidates themselves or other celebrities telling me why I should support candidate X. It irritated me to no end, as these calls commonly interrupted my dinner, study time, conversations with my wife, or other phone calls. And they clogged up my answering machine and mailbox as well. So whenever someone from the Smedley campaign, for example, called me about voting, I would commonly tell them I was already planning to vote for Smedley and didn't need to be convinced to vote for him or reminded to vote in general. That would usually cut the conversation short and allow me to get back to whatever I was doing before I was interrupted for the umpteenth time. I can only wonder how many thousands of other voters felt the same way. If this frustration is as real as I suspect it is, then polling would obviously be skewed.

A good task for further study would be to develop a means by which these kinds of voting behaviors can be credibly assessed. Come Super Tuesday, the consequences for getting these polls wrong could be a lost election, millions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of man-hours lost pursuing ineffective campaign and advertising strategies and tactics. Each of the four most probable nominees (McCain, Romney, Obama, and Clinton) has a unique demographic characteristic that could potentially benefit or hamper their electibility (age, religion, race, and gender, respectively). And each of the four has an ideological or political vulnerability that they must compensate with (mistrust among conservatives, flip-flopping on several key conservative issues, a thin political resume, and a polarizing approach to politics, respectively). And of course, they all have unique strengths as well (appeal among independents, an aura of competence, the ability to inspire new voters, and nostalgia of a relatively popular presidency, respectively).

For the sake of the polling industry and a better understanding of modern electoral behavior, how these variables interact with modern campaigning and political warfare begs further scrutiny. The challenge, however, lies in going beyond superficial thinking (e.g., "Obama should win the Black vote. McCain should do well with independents.") and figuring out how all these variables interact with each other on a more complex level.


Dissecting South Carolina (D)

The results are still coming in, but it looks like Barack Obama will win the South Carolina Democratic primary with more than half of the vote and with more votes than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards combined. Given the margin of his victory and his sufficiently strong performance among White voters (exit poll results here), it appears that the emerging storyline will be that the voters rejected the Clintonian brand of race-baiting politics and really want to move on. The other likely storyline will concern where John Edwards goes from here. Here are some of my thoughts, listed in no particular order:

1. The only way John Edwards can win the nomination now is if Clinton or Obama self-destructs somewhere down the road and he becomes the alternative candidate. But barring a total meltdown or fatal gaffe on behalf of his rivals, the only path for John Edwards now leads to amassing delegates, not winning the nomination. He was already in trouble for not winning his must-win state of Iowa and registering an embarrassing 4% in Nevada. But finishing third in his home state of South Carolina, a state he won in 2004, is a particularly strong rejection of his candidacy and is not something he can easily spin. Having been born here and representing next-door North Carolina, South Carolinians should reasonably be expected to know Edwards better than voters elsewhere. That's what makes this showing by Edwards so disappointing for his campaign. There is one silver lining for Edwards, however. Given the unexpectedly large margin of Obama's victory, most of the media's focus will be on him, rather than Edwards and his weak performance.

2. Appeals for civility and maturity may for make for good soundbytes in debates, but people don't vote for mediators. They vote for leaders. Joe Biden tried to take the high road and was rewarded with fifth place in Iowa. Chris Dodd did the same and finished seventh. Bill Richardson thought that might win him plaudits in the debate before the New Hampshire primary, but the only thing he won was an all-expense paid trip out of the race. And in the case of John Edwards, his rhetoric about civility was well-received. However, voters rewarded Obama for running the more positive campaign instead.

3. Black and White voters rejected Black and White politics. This anger was directed both at the Clintons as well as the media. Blacks were quite angry about having the issue of race be reduced to a political wedge issue. And Whites were angry about the the notion that the Clintons thought they could be scared into voting for them by playing on old fears. This is something Blacks and Whites alike would expect from a Republican, not a Democrat. And that's why both Blacks and Whites were so shocked by the tone and the rhetoric of the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign's race-baiting may have succeeded in that it drove Obama's Black support up and his White support down, which would likely benefit Clinton on Super Tuesday. However, these offended and angry Black voters are at a greater risk of staying home on Election Day in November because they have long memories when it comes to this kind of rhetoric. (Don Imus is still a sore spot, for example.) Democrats need that 85-90% of the Black vote in November. If they don't get it, competitive blue states with large Black populations (especially Michigan and Pennsylvania) may turn red. And given the weakness of Clinton regarding her electibility in the general election, she can ill afford to hemorrhage any part of her base whatsoever.

4. The generation gap between Clinton, Obama, and their supporters is very, very real. Per the exit poll results, Obama beat Clinton among voters of all ages except those over 65. And he often beat Clinton among younger voters by better than 2 to 1. The prospect of seeing a woman president may matter more to these voters because they grew up at a time when women faced far more barriers in their professional lives. Older voters may be more reliable voters, but relying on seniors for electoral success is a dicey proposition. And younger voters, many of whom have been apathetic about politics before, look at Obama as someone who channels their dreams, their vision of what America should be, and their frustration with our current state of our political discourse. To younger voters, it's as if Obama is a movement, rather than just a candidate.

The next state up is Florida, but it's more of a beauty contest than anything else because it will not award any delegates. It appears that Clinton will campaign there regardless, however, presumably to change the story from South Carolina to the springboard to Super Tuesday. The Clinton campaign will eagerly write off South Carolina because they know that the state will never go Democratic in a general election. But this state and their approach to it may have caused irreparable damage to their campaign because it reminded voters more of what they hated about the 1990s than what they missed. Notice that I am referring to the Clintons in the plural form because it is obvious that Obama is running against both the New York senator and the former president.

This reality opens up a new avenue of attack for Obama because he could reasonably question who the real president would be in a Hillary Clinton White House. And citing the Clintons' rhetoric over the past two weeks would probably lead most voters to conclude that the real risk is not in electing an "unproven" Obama with a thin resume, but rather in reelecting the Clintons and allowing their brand of politics to make America lose faith in what she is.

Black voters in the Super Tuesday states will probably break for Obama the same way they did for him in South Carolina. Those voters will likely never go back to Clinton unless she's the nominee. And White voters who were leaning towards Clinton probably were put off by her campaign and may be more inclined to vote for Obama as well. John Edwards' supporters are going to have to be honest with themselves about their available choices. Being another "change" candidate, I would expect his supporters to flock to Obama in greater numbers. But if they remain loyal to Edwards, the question will then be a matter of who his presence is hurting more. But in general, it's really hard to see how the Clintons can build up their support faster than they appear to be losing it.

For now, Obama has seized the momentum and is now even money against Clinton on Super Tuesday. But will voters in the Super Tuesday states punish her as well? Or will they have short memories?

The race goes on.

South Carolina Primary Coverage: Brave New Films Simulcast

Brave New Films is hosting primary night coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary results tonight. This event is also being sponsored by the Young Turks and is hosted by Robert Greenwald and Cenk Uygur. I will be participating in the discussion via call-in starting at 7:20. Other guests will include prominent bloggers from Firedoglake, Alternet, the Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, and other major sites. You can watch the simulcast in the window below, but if it doesn't work, you can also watch it here. A live blog is also available for anyone to participate in.


What South Carolina Means: Barack Obama

Note: This is the third and final installment of my three-part series assessing the three remaining Democratic presidential candidates as they pertain to the South Carolina Democratic primary tomorrow. This piece was originally written on January 22 and is currently posted at Pajamas Media. Due to contractual stipulations, this piece cannot be posted on The 7-10 in its entirety at present. However, it will be posted here on Sunday.

In short, this piece assesses the three probable media storylines that will emerge from the primary results tomorrow. All of these storylines are predicated on an Obama victory. The differences in storylines all depend on how large his margin of victory is, how balanced his support is, and how the Clinton campaign and the media interpret his performance:

Headline 1: Barack Obama wins South Carolina! Black vote critical to Obama’s success! This is the Barack Obama '08 becomes Jesse Jackson '88 scenario.

Headline 2: Barack Obama wins South Carolina! Margin of victory is smaller than expected! This is the Barack Obama '08 becomes Howard Dean '04 scenario.

Headline 3: Barack Obama wins South Carolina! Draws equal support from Blacks and Whites! This is the only true victory scenario for Barack Obama and his campaign and is probably the only way he could make it to the nomination and general election.

You can read the rest of this piece at Pajamas Media.

What South Carolina Means: Hillary Clinton

(Note: This is the second in a three-part series assessing South Carolina as it pertains to the three leading Democratic candidates. Yesterday's post addressed John Edwards. Tomorrow's post will address Barack Obama. Today's post looks at Hillary Clinton.)


Hillary Clinton enters the South Carolina Democratic primary in an unfamiliar position: that of the underdog. After leading most polls last year and enjoying the aura of inevitability for the better part of the year, Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses and her come from behind victory in New Hampshire have significantly weakened her stranglehold on the party’s presidential nomination. But after notching her second straight primary victory in Nevada, Clinton seems to have regained her footing and is one win away from possibly irreparably deflating the candidacy of her main rival.

However, a South Carolina victory appears more elusive than any other victory thus far. After leading South Carolina for much of the past year, there has been a tremendous shift among Black voters in the state, where they comprise about half of the electorate in the primary. There are two immediately obvious reasons why Blacks have defected from her campaign in droves:

1. Barack Obama’s Iowa victory and near-victory in New Hampshire have confirmed to Black voters that Obama is indeed electible. Many Blacks wanted to support Obama, but were afraid to do so because they worried that Whites would never vote for him because “they weren’t ready” for a Black president. However, putting together two strong showings in two overwhelmingly White states have made a lot of these voters more comfortable with supporting him.

2. The nasty war of words between Clinton, Obama, and their surrogates over race shocked, insulted, and/or disappointed Black voters. Pundits argued that women voters in New Hampshire did not take kindly to “the politics of pile on” that Clinton endured at the New Hampshire debate and on the campaign trail. As a result, they punished Obama, Edwards, and maybe even the media (who almost seemed a bit too eager to write her political obituary) by voting for Clinton. The same phenomenon could be at work in South Carolina regarding Black voters and Obama. Bringing up Martin Luther King’s assassination, having campaign staff send out rumors about his religion, and using surrogates like Black Entertainment Television’s founder to allude to his drug use may have earned Clinton an uncoveted spot on their blacklists.

However, this is not to say that this mass defection of Blacks to Obama is a bad thing for her campaign. After all, Clinton does not need any of her surrogates’ remarks to be true. As long as they succeed in turning Obama into “a Black candidate” that Black voters (and only Black voters) rally around, she would be happy to cede South Carolina to Obama in exchange for taking the lion’s share of states and delegates on Super Tuesday when far more Whites have their say. Clinton knows that about 85-90% of Blacks “come home” on Election Day and vote Democratic, and she knows this trend is likely to continue this November. So even if these Black voters don’t support her in the primaries, she knows she can count on their support later on when she’s the nominee. And more importantly, she also knows she has enough support among Whites and Latinos nationwide (as the Nevada results suggest) to more than offset losing the Black vote to Obama in South Carolina and a few other Southern Super Tuesday states.

Could Clinton win South Carolina? It’s not likely, but it is possible. Of course, the bar of expectations is set the highest for Obama, so anything short of a victory for him there would be seen as a huge disappointment. A Clinton victory would send Obama limping into Super Tuesday, where he makes his last stand. After all, it’s hard to sustain momentum when you win the first contest and then come in second three times in a row.

The more likely scenario is that Clinton places second and writes off the state as being one she couldn’t win anyway. Implicit in this statement would be an attribution to race as a factor. “When I lose the Black vote to Obama by 40 points and Blacks make up 45% of the vote, it’s going to be pretty tough for me to overcome that.” This kind of loaded statement could be both factual and conniving, as it would subtly remind Black voters that Obama is “their” candidate while also reminding White voters that Obama is not. Winning 60% of the White vote allows for more political success than losing 60% of the Black vote, so Clinton knows how to play the numbers game, and she knows how to use race strategically. In light of the racially-tinged remarks coming from her campaign over the past two weeks, I would not expect anything different from her.

Clinton knows that regardless of how well she finishes in South Carolina, she will live to fight again on Super Tuesday. This is not to say that the state is meaningless to her campaign though, as sneaking out with a victory, either in terms of the outright vote or in beating expectations, would be the political uppercut that sends Obama to his knees on February 5.


What South Carolina Means: John Edwards

(This is the first of a three-part series assessing the South Carolina Democratic primary. Today's installment is about John Edwards. I will write about Hillary Clinton on Friday and Barack Obama on Saturday.)


Absent Hillary Clinton, John Edwards was supposed to be the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination this year. A young and affable Southerner who was the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee just four years ago, John Edwards should have had the inside track to the nomination. He was a familiar face and emerged from the 2004 campaign less wounded than John Kerry. He had the unique ability to argue that he could win an election in a red state, owned the poverty issue, and had a sharp populist message that resonated with angry and anxious voters who were upset about the lack of affordable health care, the lack of consumer protections, and the perceived exploitation by “big oil companies, big drug companies, and big insurance companies.” And on top of all this, Edwards essentially joined Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin to become Iowa’s third senator by campaigning there nonstop after his 2004 defeat. Seeing that Iowa served as the leadoff contest for the presidential nomination, this race should have been Edwards’ to lose.

That was the thinking in January 2007. One year later, Edwards is struggling to remain relevant. He narrowly avoided third place in Iowa, placed a distant third in New Hampshire, “got his butt kicked” in Nevada, and is trailing badly in his home state of South Carolina despite heavily advertising here.

So what went wrong?

Some of Edwards’ mistakes were tactical ones, such as not putting a swift end to the haircut story or letting his wife Elizabeth overshadow him in her attacks on his rivals. Other mistakes weren’t really mistakes at all, but rather the consequences of unlucky timing. Barack Obama’s candidacy made it too difficult for Edwards to run as an outsider, an agent of change, or a grassroots candidate. This left Edwards struggling to find his niche. And as Obama and Clinton sucked all the oxygen out of the room, there simply wasn’t any room left for Edwards. Iowa was considered his do-or-die state. He barely avoided third place, but spun that as “a victory for change” and soldiered on.

This will almost certainly be Edwards’ last bid for the presidency, so there’s really no good reason why he should just drop out of the race. However, South Carolina is really his last chance. He wasn’t able to win in Iowa despite having campaigned there for more than three years and visiting all 99 of its counties. If he’s not able to win South Carolina, the state where he was born and the state he won in the 2004 primary, then where can he win? Staying in the race after losing South Carolina would confirm Edwards as a loser in the minds of voters and pundits alike. He will be seen as the third man in a two-person race, if he isn’t being viewed that way already. He may argue that winning delegates is important, but if he loses South Carolina, that electoral spigot will probably shut off as well.

John Edwards is way behind Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina polls. Unless the polls are completely off (e.g., New Hampshire primary polls redux), the best Edwards could probably hope for is to beat Clinton for second place. Should this happen, Edwards could credibly say he beat Clinton twice and parlay that into a reminder that he is the most electible Democrat. But there are two problems with this: 1) Clinton has too much money and too much organization nationwide to let Edwards stand in her way, and 2) beating Clinton has nothing to do with beating Obama, another well-funded and well-liked candidate who has an impressive campaign apparatus.

However, Edwards does have the advantage of low expectations. He did score a lot of points at the recent debate in Myrtle Beach when he criticized his rivals for spending more time squabbling with each other than addressing the concerns of the voters. Voters who get their news once a day at 6:30 and don’t use or have access to the internet so they can follow the he-said-she-said daily political news cycle may have soured on Obama and Clinton and may decide to reward Edwards for staying above the fray. Of course, astute politicos may remember that Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden have taken the “I’m the grownup in the room” approach before, but look where that got them. Anyway, because nobody is really expecting Edwards to do well, a stronger than expected finish or even beating one of his rivals outright would be seen as a huge victory and could potentially spur a series of “Is there an Edwards comeback?”-type stories.

Having said that, Edwards will probably be giving his concession and withdrawal speeches in a couple of days, but anything can happen in a voting booth. And for all of his tactical mistakes and the unfavorable position he’s in right now, he is still a formidable and likable candidate who has nothing left to lose. And for that reason, he bears watching.


South Carolina Debate Analysis (D)

Last night the top three Democrats squared off in what was the most cantankerous, liveliest, and probably nastiest debate that has taken place so far this campaign season. The rhetoric often became heated and the accusations were flying fast and furiously. Praising the legacy of Martin Luther King was often followed by accusations of distoring one's records, working with "slumlords," hypocrisy, and not taking stands on previous tough votes. In other words, it was good television for political junkies and pundits who had been waiting for the gloves to come off for ages.

Here's how I think the candidates fared:

Hillary Clinton

Clinton was highly aggressive at the debate, as she hit Obama hard over Iraq, healthcare, his voting record in the Illinois legislature, and even his dealings with the shady Tony Rezko. Some of these attacks did not go over well, as she actually received a few boos from the audience. Her main point was that one's record and what one says do matter, and she wanted to use Obama's "present" votes (read this post I wrote back in November) and recent remarks (e.g., talking about Reagan's transformational politics) to illustrate these points. Of course, this would open her up to criticism about her war vote regarding Iraq and how so many of her records from Bill Clinton's presidency have yet to be released, so this is a risky strategy for her to pursue. Curiously, she also said "this election is about the future." But does Clinton really represent "the future?"

There has been a titanic shift among Black voters from Clinton to Obama after Obama's Iowa victory and the race-baiting from the last two weeks. Coupling this with Clinton's attacks on Obama last night suggests that she has made the tactical decision to cede South Carolina to Obama and speak moreso to Democrats in Florida and the Super Tuesday states. This is akin to Mitt Romney's foregoing South Carolina for the sake of Michigan and Nevada. Black voters in South Carolina (and perhaps beyond) seem to have made the decision that Obama is "their guy" and will not take kindly to Clinton hammering him like that. Obama will probably win South Carolina, but his margins among Black voters will likely be quite lopsided.

If this is Clinton's strategy, it does have some merit in that Blacks will not make up as large a portion of the electorate in many Super Tuesday states as they do in South Carolina, thus giving Blacks for Obama the same importance as evangelicals for Huckabee. So while Clinton could cede the Black vote to Obama on Super Tuesday, if she is able to hold down his margins among White voters enough, she could plausibly win the nomination. The problem with this, however, is that she will be under a lot of pressure to smooth over her relationships with Blacks, especially if she doesn't choose Obama or another Black as her running mate. The problem for Obama, of course, is that the more Blacks rush to his campaign and the more they express outrage over the attacks against him (from Whites), the more he risks becoming "the black candidate" instead of "the unity candidate who happens to be Black." As I mentioned in a previous post, Clinton can beat the former, but she can't beat the latter.

Barack Obama

Standing at the center lectern, Barack Obama was buffeted from all sides by Clinton and Edwards. He had several particularly sharp exchanges with Clinton, which likely indicates that the "truce" they had declared just a few days ago is either over or never really existed to begin with. To Obama's credit, he was able to parry most of the attacks that came his way and even cleverly pivoted from talking about a vulnerability to talking about a strength. For example, when Clinton hit him hard on his dealings with Tony Rezko, Obama glossed over the controversy and pivoted to discussing the importance of being able to trust what our leaders say. While he may not have completely acquited himself regarding Rezko, he did at least mollify voters by reminding them of his candor, which he commonly demonstrated in his book regarding his past drug use and other indiscretions. But while he was able to successfully turn this into an issue of honesty, it also provided his weakest moment of the debate because he was forced to concede that "none of our hands are completely clean." Should the media pick up on this remark, Obama had better be prepared to explain exactly what he meant because the Obama brand is built on "change," which is synonymous with good, open, clean government.

Obama had a few things he clearly wanted to say tonight, likely in an attempt to quell some of the persistent rumors about him and to get some of his frustrations out in the open. Note that he made it a point to remind everyone that he was "a proud Christian" and that he wasn't sure if he was running against just one Clinton or two. The former remark was to stem the rumors about him being a Muslim. The latter was to convey to voters that he was being unfairly double-teamed by the Clinton machine and that they represent the "old way" of doing politics. For voters who don't have access to the internet or who don't often watch the news, this debate provided Obama with a huge megaphone through which he could communicate with these voters who might be easily swayed by rumors or other propoganda.

The audience seemed to like Obama last night and commonly applauded or chucked at his remarks. Because of how aggressively Clinton and Edwards were attacking him, Obama could parlay that into a discussion about "coming together," which plays to his strengths. His remarks about who Martin Luther King would endorse were quite clever, as he reminded voters that King was about empowerment and grassroots activism. This response was out of the box and showed him to be "different" from traditional Black leaders who commonly talk about combatting racism, ending poverty, and the vestiges of slavery. Blacks and Whites alike probably found these remarks to be quite pleasing and uplifting.

John Edwards

John Edwards is the odd man out in this race. He complained to the moderators several times about there being three candidates on the stage instead of two and how the other candidates were getting more time to speak than he was. But this is Edwards' problem. After losing his must-win state of Iowa, placing a distant third in New Hampshire, garnering a dismal 4% in Nevada, and trailing badly in South Carolina polls, Edwards is on the cusp of irrelevancy.

People have talked about how Edwards could potentially be a kingmaker or even wrest the nomination away from Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama if they beat up on each other so badly that they render themselves unelectible. But the problem with this is that the voters already know who Edwards is and saw how little he added to John Kerry's 2004 ticket. His populist rhetoric has some resonance, but he seems to be losing traction everywhere.

Edwards tried to play the role of the grown-up on stage who wanted to keep the focus on the issues facing ordinary Americans:

"(paraphrased quote) Americans don't care about our bickering. All our squabbling is not going to give hardworking Americans healthcare."
For politicos who have been paying attention, this is exactly what Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden were saying at previous debates, but none of them was rewarded for it. Because Edwards is now the weakest candidate remaining, will his remarks be ignored just as Richardson's were? After all, Richardson talked about stopping the petty bickering at the debate before the New Hampshire primary. He won lots of applause for those remarks, but they didn't translate into lots of votes.

Several pundits identified Edwards as the winner of the debate, but I'm not so sure. He was reminded of previous votes he had taken that contradict his campaign rhetoric now (e.g., votes regarding trade with China) and several of his attacks on Obama were successfully parried. While Edwards may have won in terms of trying to focus more on the issues, too many voters may have already written him off for his arguments to resonate.

In addition to this, he sometimes allied himself with Obama to attack Clinton as not being a true agent of change. The problem with this is that Obama is viewed as the main "change" candidate in the race. Edwards needs to find a new niche because the "change" mantle has already been taken. Sometimes Edwards joined with Clinton to attack Obama as well, but he doesn't have much to gain by pursuing that strategy either because the Edwards and Clinton camps simply don't like each other and are not likely to have their supporters defect to the other's campaign.

The Republicans

John McCain seems to be the candidate the Democrats are expecting to face in November. The fact that his name was brought up more than once should delight McCain's campaign and be good for his fundraising because he could tell his donors that "the Democrats are more worried about me than they are about fixing the economy" or something like that. That has the added bonus of allowing McCain to make an "us vs. them" argument in which "us" means Republicans--the very group he needs to win over the most because of his weaker appeal among those voters compared to independents.

George Bush's name also often came up, usually for the sake of criticism. The Democrats seem intent on running against Bush this fall even though his name won't be on the ballot. Look for McCain to be turned into a proxy for Bush despite his popularity among independents and his perception as a maverick. That might not be easy to do because Republican dissatisfaction with and distrust of McCain is well-documented and could be used as evidence to show that he is not as close to Bush as the Democrats may claim.

The fact that Mitt Romney's name was not mentioned at all despite having won more states than his rivals and leading the delegate race is probably a psychological blow for him. However, Romney could be what Obama was last year in that Republicans were expecting to face off against the inevitable Clinton. Should the Democrats view McCain as the inevitable Republican, a surprise Romney nomination could force the Democrats to search for a new political playbook.

This is not to say that the Democrats plan on ceding all of the Republican votes to the Republican candidates. Obama was the only Democrat that talked about getting a few disenchanted Republicans to join him, thus further buttressing the idea that he is a unity candidate. Clinton talked more about having faced the Republicans before and being able to beat them, thus reminding Democrats that she's "tough" and "tested." Edwards' populist rhetoric could potentially appeal to both Democrats and Republicans because poverty knows no politics, but his nomination looks far less likely now than it did a few months ago.

The media

With this debate taking place on Martin Luther King Day and being sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus in South Carolina, a lot of questions were related to the issues of race and poverty. Some of the questions, however, were a bit unnecessary, as they did not really reveal anything important about the candidates. For example, why was Obama asked if Bill Clinton really was "the first Black president?" Fortunately he had a witty response ("let's see how well he dances"), but couldn't the time spent on this question have been better spent asking about the candidates' views on withdrawing troops from Iraq?

The moderator (CNN's Wolf Blitzer) did not really have control over this debate, but the ground rules he mentioned at the beginning of the debate made this lack of control seem less obvious. Having had so many of these rules be ignored in previous debates, CNN did a good job of just letting the candidates have at each other, even though they had a tendency to stray off topic and go negative. (Again, to his credit, John Edwards tried to keep everyone focused on the issues instead of on each other.) The moderators simply asked the questions and tried to give the candidates a fair chance to offer rebuttals to their rivals' charges. So while they might not have had total control over the debate, at least they did not embarrass themselves by pretending they did.

All in all, judging from this debate I'd say that Clinton is thinking more about Super Tuesday than South Carolina, Obama is thinking about exposing Clinton as a negative campaigner, and Edwards is still thinking about finding a way to become the third person in a two-person race.


Post-South Carolina State of Affairs (R)

South Carolina and Nevada have spoken, and the results have finally produced several distinct tiers of Republican candidates: John McCain and Mitt Romney in the top tier, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani in the second tier, and Fred Thompson and Ron Paul in the third tier. Because of the sheer chaos that characterizes the Republican race, Republican voters and party operatives are anxiously waiting for signs that someone is breaking out of the pack, as they are not sure who they should rally around. Things might still be muddled right now, but the race is no longer as turbid as it once was.

John McCain's South Carolina victory is particularly sweet for him, especially after the way he was vilified in the 2000 primary. Of course, nasty kneecap politics reemerged this time around too, but that McCain was able to survive should serve as a testament to his overall strength and appeal. This victory caps McCain's improbable political comeback and has established him as the Republican frontrunner. At the very least, he is a co-frontrunner with Mitt Romney. I predicted McCain's resurgence back in December and based this prediction on the fact that even though he has made a lot of Republicans angry on individual issues, he is at least acceptable enough to all factions of the Republican Party to make him seem like a consensus candidate. The South Carolina exit polls show how balanced his support is among Republican voters. This balance potentially makes him a stronger candidate than Huckabee (whose support skews to evangelicals) or Romney (whose support skews to wealthier voters and corporate Republicans).

McCain can now enter Florida with a reasonable chance of pulling off another victory. There are major military bases in the Tampa and Pensacola areas, which should be fertile territory for him. The fact that there are also a lot of seniors there should work to his advantage too, as Huckabee tends to do better with younger voters. And because Florida is supposed to be "Giuliani's state," there's not as much pressure on him to win it. So McCain has to be sitting pretty right now.

Huckabee should study the exit polls carefully because they reveal a potentially fatal weakness about his candidacy--that his appeal among non-evangelical voters is weak. It's well known that devout Christians (those who attend church more than once per week) love Huckabee. However, the problem for Huckabee is that even in the Republican Party, there are a lot of less traditional and more moderate Christians, and these voters are decidedly not supporting Huckabee, as he only won 16% of their votes (as opposed to winning 43% of the vote among evangelical/born-again Christian voters). This does not bode well for Huckabee in less conservative states outside the Bible Belt and even in a general election. His populist rhetoric is certainly appealing, but is his Christian rhetoric turning these voters off? Huckabee had better figure out a new approach soon because as soon as he becomes a Pat Roberson candidate and nothing more, his campaign is finished.

Fred Thompson narrowly won third place in South Carolina. Because of his limited campaigning elsewhere, his falling poll numbers, and the general sense that his campaign has been a disappointment, Thompson really needed to win South Carolina to reinvigorate his campaign. However, because he barely only placed third, it's really hard to see how Thompson can continue. He will not be the nominee.

However, even though Thompson is likely finished, his presence is still having a major impact on the race. Judging from the South Carolina exit polls, Thompson significantly cut into Huckabee's base of evangelical Christians. Had Thompson not been on the ballot, it is quite probable that Huckabee would have beaten McCain. Thompson is not really attacking McCain aggressively, but he is blasting Huckabee. Since McCain and Thompson are close personal friends, could Thompson be serving as a stalking horse or a shield for McCain? Is Thompson's role to force McCain's rivals out of the race by starving them of victories they are widely expected to have? Thompson clearly held Huckabee back in South Carolina. Could he do the same with both Huckabee and Giuliani in Florida?

Fred Thompson is hurting Mike Huckabee the same way John Edwards is hurting Barack Obama. They are both Southerners who are trying to run as consistent conservative outsiders. Huckabee is the stronger candidate, but Thompson is strong enough to significantly bog Huckabee down. Needless to say, Huckabee would be thrilled if Thompson pulled out of the race before Florida. However, given Thompson's ambiguous speech after the results came in, there's no telling what to expect.

Romney's victory in uncontested Nevada overshadowed his fourth place showing in South Carolina. This is fine because he is continuing to silently rack up delegates. And seeing that Nevada had more delegates at stake than South Carolina, his decision to play in Nevada was a smart tactical move. And because the focus will be on Huckabee and Giuliani to win Florida, he enters the state with the advantage of low expectations. So while a Florida victory would be nice, Super Tuesday is clearly where his attention will lie. Second, or even third, in Florida should be good enough to give him decent momentum heading into Super Tuesday. It appears that Romney will be one of the last two (or three) candidates standing. The other one used to look like Giuliani (and that may still happen), but McCain is clearly emerging as the strongest candidate with all the momentum.

Ron Paul's second place showing in Nevada will likely serve as yet another embarrassment for Giuliani. Paul also bested Giuliani in South Carolina as well. It is clear that Paul is gathering enough support to warrant respect from the other candidates. But in the end, this second place finish took place in a state where the other candidates weren't campaigning all (except for Romney), and the best he could do elsewhere prior to this was fourth or fifth. 15% seems to be Paul's ceiling, which is not enough to win a primary or caucus anywhere. The question now becomes who is Paul drawing the most votes from?

At most, there will be three tickets out of Florida. Florida will be the last stand for Huckabee, Thompson, and Giuliani. McCain and Romney can survive even if they don't win because they have each already won at least twice. Huckabee only won Iowa, and these memories of his Iowa victory are being replaced by his second and third place showings elsewhere. Thompson surprised pundits by placing third in Iowa, but he was clearly expected to do better in South Carolina. Seeing that Florida is another Southern state, Thompson essentially gets a do-over--but this is it for him. Giuliani has not been a part of the national conversation for weeks now, so his candidacy is sliding into irrelevance. Anything worse than a close second in Florida will probably end his campaign because he simply won't have the financial resources to compete on Super Tuesday. The pressure is off of McCain and Romney to win Florida, so the final ticket to Super Tuesday will go to the Huckabee-Thompson-Giuliani winner. Because of Giuliani's strength in several major Super Tuesday states, many of which more moderate, will McCain and Romney avoid crippling Huckabee and Thompson while they blast Giuliani in an attempt to abort his candidacy before it has a chance to demonstrate its true appeal?

I once thought that the GOP nomination would come down to Rudy Giuliani and his conservative alternative. But now it appears that it will come down to the establishment candidate and the outsider. That explains Clinton vs. Obama on the Democratic side and would explain McCain vs. Romney on the Republican side. Huckabee or Giuliani could still replace Romney, but the only way this could happen is if they win Florida. Second place is not good enough for those candidates anymore.


The Immigration Bill: Compromised by Compromise?

So, it looks like the Senate has reached a compromise on immigration. In a nutshell, this bill would require illegal aliens to pay a hefty fine, create a new type of visa that would allow them to stay in the US legally, allow them to apply for permanent residency after eight years, and fortify the Border Patrol.

It seems like a practical solution, but there are going to be A LOT of angry voters out there because of this bill. I guess if you're being attacked by the left and the right, that means you've found a sufficient balance. But there are four competing constituencies that further complicate matters:

1. Liberals want to accommodate illegal aliens and give them more rights for humanistic reasons. Many illegal aliens come to America so they can make a better life for their families. Wages are often so low and working conditions are often so poor in their home countries that it makes working in America so much more attractive. Why should illegal aliens be penalized for trying to seek a better life here? And isn't the United States supposed to be a nation of immigrants? Does Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses have any meaning whatsoever?

2. Conservatives vehemently oppose illegal immigration because the fact that these aliens are in the United States illegally makes them lawbreakers who should not be entitled to any social services or federal or municipal benefits whatsoever. They believe these illegal aliens are a drain on local community resources that should be allocated to US citizens and legal immigrants. They equate legalizing their presence in America as amnesty, which is a non-starter for them. A nativist subset of the conservative wing also doesn't like the fact that these mostly brown people speak Spanish and eat pollo con arroz instead of pot roast. They fear that America's identity is at stake.

3. Opportunistic Democratic politicians sense an opportunity to cultivate millions of new potential Democratic voters. They remember what happened to former California Governor Pete Wilson. Gov. Wilson's crackdown on illegal immigration turned California into a reliably Democratic state because of its high Hispanic population that was enraged by Wilson's policies. Gov. Wilson also helped brand the Republican Party as the party that is not sympathetic to illegal immigrants. The Republican Party continues to struggle for support among minorities to this very day. Democrats don't want to make that same "mistake," so they want to portray themselves as "being on the side" of families who come to America to search for a better life.

4. Big business Republican politicians know who writes their campaign checks. Corporate America often relies on illegal immigrants because they provide a steady source of cheap, no-hassle labor. Why pay an American $15 an hour if a Mexican will do it for $10? Why bother hiring an American who is a member of a labor union and wants health insurance and retirement benefits if you can get a Guatemalan who just wants a salary? This keeps costs down and profits up, which makes business executives very, very happy. They know Republicans are their allies in Washington and will continue to fund their campaigns so long as these legislators keep their bread buttered.

This compromise bill seems to satisfy a little bit of each of these four groups' concerns. But I think there is a huge intensity gap separating the second group (conservatives) from the other three. Illegal immigration is one of those hot-button issues that can significantly drive up turnout, much like abortion and gun rights do. I'm not yet sure how this will play out nationally, but I will say this:

Because of this intensity gap, this compromise legislation may prove fatal for the political aspirations of two Republican senators in general: John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

John McCain is the most credible top tier Republican presidential candidate when it comes to his conservative record. However, he has been viewed with suspicion because of his membership in the "Gang of 14," campaign finance reform legislation, and the maverick streak he has exhibited in the past. Mitt Romney's recent "conversions" to conservatism are often derided, and Rudy Giuliani is obviously a moderate. Conservatives who didn't trust McCain before may view his support of this compromise bill as the final straw that turns them off from his campaign. Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson may be the beneficiaries of McCain's possible implosion because of this issue. McCain's problem is that both independents and conservatives view him with suspicion. Unfortunately for McCain, conservatives are much more important for him because without conservative support, he cannot win the Republican presidential nomination. Period.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is often criticized by South Carolinians for not being conservative enough for their tastes. He was also a member of the Gang of 14, which didn't sit too well in this very red state. Senator Graham is up for reelection in 2008. Look for him to have to contend with a strong conservative challenger in the state's Republican primary. It is quite possible that he will not survive. South Carolina Democrats don't particularly like Senator Graham because even though he often talks tough about President Bush, he ultimately sides with Bush anyway. However, they are happy with the fact that he is not a hardcore conservative like Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma or Senator Sessions of Alabama. If such a Republican beats Senator Graham in the Republican primary, could this open up the door for a moderate Democratic challenger to win Lindsey Graham's Senate seat?

And finally, even though I'm more of a libertarian or a liberal when it comes to social issues (anti-censorship, supporter of gay rights, etc.), I am a staunch conservative when it comes to illegal immigration. My wife is not an American citizen. We had to go through a painstakingly rigorous, expensive, and time-consuming process in order to get her green card approved. We had to shell out hundreds of dollars in application fees, transportation expenses, and legal services--all of which were a part of the permanent residency application process. Check out some of the forums at Visa Journey and read some of the threads there to get an idea of what other international couples have to deal with in order to come to the United States legally. There are stressful interviews at far away embassies, long periods of waiting on the telephone only to hear an agent tell you they don't know anything about your immigration case, and even fees just to contact the embassy in certain cases. After all the work we had to do just to get my wife in the United States legally, it incenses me to know that someone can simply jump a fence or hide in the trunk of a car as it crosses a border checkpoint and still get hired on the other side and even receive government benefits in so-called sanctuary cities.

Having said that, I realize it is not practical to round up 10 million people and send them back to their countries of origin. So this compromise is probably the most pragmatic way of dealing with the problem. However, let it be known that there are millions and millions of other similarly angry voters out there who will severely penalize Republican legislators who sign onto this bill. Democrats probably won't be penalized as heavily because Iraq is where their voters' intensity lies. But Republicans should be particularly careful.

John McCain's poll numbers should be intriguing to watch. We could be witnessing a presidential flameout in the making.


The First Debate: A Second Analysis

I watched a rebroadcast of the debate this afternoon on MSNBC. I have to say that I have to amend my original analysis. For the sake of professionalism and the credibility of The 7-10, I will not edit that original analysis. Interested readers can contrast my original analysis with my second one after viewing the debate again. I noticed a few subtleties that took place during the debate that I had missed the first time. Perhaps because I was so overcome with emotion and caught up in the moment I was unable to fully concentrate.

So here's my second analysis:

Hillary Clinton: No change here. She did a sufficient job of answering the questions posed to her. Keep in mind that "sufficient" doesn't necessarily mean "great." She even used some of the lines I thought she would, such as "I take responsibility for my [Iraq War] vote." She left the debate as the best positioned candidate. She looked poised, she smiled, she was attentive, and her answers were comprehensive. Her debate performance mimicked her campaign perfectly. It is obvious she had practiced rigorously prior to this debate because she did not look like she was thrown off kilter by anything the moderators asked.

Barack Obama: Obama was disappointing. I think a lot of his soft supporters were looking forward to hearing a lot more substance from him in the debate. I think the expectations had been built so high for him that he had a very fine line to walk. He made a rookie mistake by getting into an extended argument with Dennis Kucinich over Iran because Kucinich is not a threat to him. Politically speaking, Obama elevated Kucinich and his anti-war message. Obama also bombed on the terrorism question, no pun intended. Republicans probably feel much better about facing him now than before the debate.

John Edwards: I must admit that Edwards did better than I originally thought. He did not win the debate by any means, but I think he missed several opportunities to help his campaign. Edwards used a lot of the same language that Obama used in terms of hope and unity. However, Edwards can get away with this because Obama is receiving the brunt of the criticism about there being so little meat in his message. I still believe Edwards flubbed the moral leader and economics question. He seemed not to know how to respond to the hedge fund question and instead tried to turn it to a subject he was more comfortable discussing. I do worry that people who have worries about Obama and his lack of experience and meat may rub off on Edwards supporters as well. Edwards didn't do a great job tonight, but he did not hurt himself too badly either. I think he left the debate in the same position he was in before it started. But as goes Obama, so goes Edwards? By the way, one question was particularly damaging for Edwards. Obama, Clinton, and Edwards were the only candidates not to raise their hands when the moderator asked who has ever owned a gun as an adult. Southerners may forgive Clinton and Obama for being removed from "gun culture," but they might view Edwards, a North Carolinian, suspiciously. "Is he truly one of us?" Could that one question derail his campaign and limit his appeal in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and other Southern states?

Bill Richardson: After watching the debate again, I can confidently say that Richardson mopped the floor with Clinton, Obama and Edwards in terms of his grasp of foreign policy and executive experience. He had a nice list of bullet points detailing how he would tackle certain problems and came across as the lone moderate in the race, which should provide solace to those who were supporting Evan Bayh and Mark Warner. He did make a small gaffe when he talked about "a post-democratic Cuba" and seemed to forget about the executive responsibilities he deals with in New Mexico ("guns?"), but those paled in comparison to his points about energy, Africa, diplomacy, and terrorism. I think he raised a few eyebrows, but needs to work on controlling himself in terms of following the debate rules because he consistently talked over the moderator. That may evoke images of Al Gore sighing during the debates.

Chris Dodd: I must give Dodd credit. He is an intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful man. He did not bomb any questions and answered them quite thoroughly. Liberals might not be happy with the way he handled the gay marriage/civil union question, but I do not think this is fatal. Dodd seems to be positioning himself as a mainstream liberal. He came across like a better disciplined John Kerry. Dodd did not hit any home runs at the debate, but he did present himself as a competent and reasonably nice guy who embraces center-left values. He was pegged as a Washington insider, but he embraced his family's career in public service. I don't think he energized any new supporters, but he has not taken himself out of the race by any means. He's not on the Republicans' radar right now.

Joe Biden: Simply put, Biden won the debate. He also did the most to help his campaign of all the candidates in the debate. He spoke forcefully, authoritatively, and competently while also showing how he could be funny and likable. His "yes" response to the verbosity question was priceless. Inexplicably, he singled out Hillary as a tough candidate for the Republicans to beat. Could it be that he thinks her nomination is inevitable? Is he trying to be her vice president or Secretary of State? I think Biden's performance has generated a lot of new potential supporters. At the very least, he lent his campaign credibility.

Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich gets credit for being authentic. I am not sure America is ready for a president like Kucinich yet because his thinking seems to put him about 20-30 years ahead of where America actually is. Kucinich's words probably resonated with expatriates and viewers from other countries. He is clearly the anti-war liberal in the race and is not ashamed to run on Iraq and Iran. The fact that no other candidate opted to support his motion to impeach Vice President Cheney works to burnish Kucinich's image as perhaps the only "genuine" Democrat in the race because I'm sure some of those candidates and almost everyone else in the audience want both Bush and Cheney to be kicked out immediately. The fact that Obama chose to debate him directly over the issue of war with Iran only elevated Kucinich and gave his anti-war stance greater prominence. Kucinich was clearly the most comfortable candidate on stage, as he seems to care more about his message, rather than how his message is received according to the polls.

Mike Gravel: If nobody knew who Mike Gravel was before this debate, they sure know now. He was a loose cannon and trained his sights on everyone. Joe Biden foolishly drew his ire by raising his hand during one of his responses, which led to Gravel saying "he had a certain bit of arrogance telling the Iraqis how to run their country." Gravel did get a few good lines in and made some good points about America's "military-industrial complex" and nuclear weapons, but his lack of speaking discipline and decorum have removed any doubts of his campaign's credibility. Gravel's presence detracted a bit from Kucinich because of the overlap of their positions. However, the other Democrats benefited from him because his lack of restraint made the other candidates look moderate or sensible by comparison.

Overall performances:

Hillary Clinton: B+
Barack Obama: C-
John Edwards: B-
Bill Richardson: B+
Chris Dodd: B
Joe Biden: A-
Dennis Kucinich: A
Mike Gravel: 7.436RF4 (Can you better quantify his performance?)

Clyburn's Fish Fry

I had the wonderful fortune of attending South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn's Annual Fish Fry in downtown Columbia last night. The fish fry took place on the lower deck of a parking garage downtown. Press releases and publicity materials said the fish fry would last from 8 to 11, but it looked like people started partying much earlier than that. My wife, my sister, and I got to 1411 Gervais Street at about 7:20 and saw a HUGE line snaking out of the garage. The smell of fried fish hit me a block away. I'm sure the police officers patrolling the intersections nearby loved that smell too.

The first thing I noticed was how many Obama volunteers were working the crowd. They were strategically placed near the event entrance, street corners near the parking garage, and at various points in the line of people waiting to get in. I am most definitely not an Obama supporter, but I didn't want to use today to start any debates or arguments with any of the other campaign workers and supporters. I just wanted some fish.

The Obama volunteers I met today were a lot more cordial than the ones I met at his campaign tent at the debate in Orangeburg on Thursday. They were persistent in trying to get me to sign up for their mailing list, but I didn't bite. I politely took a few Obama stickers and they left me alone after that. One of the volunteers looked vaguely familiar. It turned out that he worked at Best Buy and delivered my washing machine and dryer about two or three weeks ago. So I talked with him for a few minutes before he left to try and enlist new supporters.

While we were waiting in line, I ran into two German journalists that I had met at the debate. We joked a little as I told them about all the autographs I got. Then I started talking with a couple that came from North Carolina. They were Obama supporters, but they seemed soft. They asked me who I was rooting for and I told them I was in Richardson's camp. Then I explained what happened to me with Obama's supporters at the debate and how that left me with a sour impression of his campaign. They said I should tell Obama what happened directly because he would not approve of such behavior, but I told them Obama brushed me off too. They laughed and asked if I was wearing a Richardson campaign sticker when that happened. Touchee, but how could Obama win over any converts if he only interacts with people who already agree with him?

When we finally made it to the registration table, we had to fill out personal data sheets and take a Clyburn for Congress sticker. That's when I noticed all the Clyburn signs that had been plastered all over the parking garage. And that's when I noticed just how many people had already entered the garage. We saw two lines of people. A fairly short line of about 20 people was waiting to get some soft drinks and liquor. A muuuuuuuuuch longer line of people was waiting for what was in the back of the garage: the fish. The three of us then took our place in line and waited, and waited, and waited. It probably took 15 or 20 minutes before we actually made it to the food. There was bread, fish fillets, and various sauces. Nothing more, nothing less. And that was fine. They had another soft drink table nearby. We took one plate of fish each and then searched for a seat. We were able to find a table with three chairs in a nearby alley, so we sat there and tore into that fish.

Man, that was some good stuff. I have nothing more to say about that.

After finishing our food, we were still hungry. But we knew that if we left our table and seats, we'd lose them for good. So I volunteered to wait in line again while they guarded the table. When I went back out to the main area where the lines were, I saw that the line's length had doubled. Simply incredible.

There were so many people. All of Clyburn's volunteers were wearing blue "Clyburn for Congress" T-shirts. His actual aides were wearing black suits with some sort of lapel pin. A deejay was playing some old school funk and R&B.; I distinctly remember hearing Parliament and Prince.

While I was waiting in line, I ran into a guy whom I had met the night before. Two nights ago, this guy approached me and shook my hand after I took the microphone and successfully recited the names, states, and titles of the eight Democratic presidential candidates. When I ran into this guy again today, I told him I remember him from the day before but didn't know who he was because he didn't introduce himself. He smiled at me and gave me his business card. He told me he was one of Congressman Clyburn's aides at his district office in Columbia and said "I had good knowledge" and "I did good last night." Needless to say, I quickly pulled out one of my own business cards and handed it to him.

I surveyed the crowd again while I was standing in line. It looked like about 85% of the people there were Obama fans, based on the stickers they were wearing. A few people had Edwards and Clinton stickers, but they were clearly in the minority. I only saw maybe five or six other people in the entire garage that had Richardson stickers, about four or five people with Dodd T-shirts, and the same number of Biden supporters. I saw nobody sporting any Kucinich or Gravel campaign gear. I also happened to see who I guess is the Richardson campaign's South Carolina campaign chairwoman. She remembered me from yesterday and asked if I needed any stickers. I told her I wanted one so I could show Richardson a little love in a sea of Obama fans.

When I got close to the food table, I called my sister on her cell phone and told her to send my wife out so we could get enough fish for the three of us. It was about 8:45 now. None of the politicians had arrived yet because they were attending the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner at the convention center (about 7 blocks away) until 9. So we still had time to laugh and chat while enjoying the warm evening breeze.

At about 9:15 we decided to relinquish our seats and head back to the main area of the parking garage where the candidates would speak. A stage had been set up in the center of the garage, where I noticed a few Secret Service agents had conspicuously planted themselves. People had already begun to congregate near the stage and stake out their positions there. Because of the shape of the garage, if you were not near this stage, it would be impossible for you take a good picture of the candidates, much less be able to meet them.

By 9:30, the crowd had become a bit restless. I'm not sure how many of them knew that the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was responsible for their delay, but nobody was budging from their vantage points. I noticed that the number of Hillary supporters had increased considerably as well.

Then I heard everybody cheering.

Bill Richardson had entered the garage and was working the crowd near the entrance. Needless to say, I was pumped up. However, I was standing too far away from him and didn't have a chance to shake his hand. Then I heard the crowd erupt into a deafening roar.

The 'Bama had arrived.

Obama was wearing his trademark sports coat with a white dress shirt, top button open. This laid back image was a direct contrast to Richardson, who was wearing a full executive suit. Contrary to my experience with him on Thursday, Obama shook as many hands as he could, including my sister's. ("Oh my gosh, I can't believe I actually shook Obama's hand!") Perhaps the more laid back environment was a better fit for him?

He then made a strategic retreat to the fish table. Obviously, he did not have to wait in line. When he returned to the stage, he had a plate of fish sans drink. Congressman Clyburn had already taken the microphone and I noticed that Obama took a strategically timed bite of that fish when Clyburn began to speak. Even my wife, whose knowledge of politics is minimal at best, could tell that this was staged. My thinking is that Obama knew that as soon as Clyburn, the single most powerful politician in South Carolina, began to speak, everybody's attention would be directed to the stage, where they could see Obama conveniently proving his Black credentials by getting his grub on as he takes an oversized bite of some fried fish. (We knew this fish had a few bones in it, so my sister joked that Obama would be in big trouble if that oversized bite of fish Obama took wasn't all meat.)

The crowd began to cheer again as Joe Biden entered the garage and walked onto the stage. He and Richardson exchanged hugs and handshakes. Chris Dodd, who was next, received a similar reception.

The next thing I heard was the sound of drums. That's when I saw a gang of supporters holding "Clinton Country" campaign signs file into the garage to the beats of a drum squad. Incredible. Suddenly I felt like I was at a college football game's halftime show when the schools' marching bands competed against each other. It was as if Obama and Clinton were trying to outdo each other with flair and bombast. But the crowd was eating it up.

And there she was. Hillary appeared out of nowhere and had her trademark wide-eyed smile. I could not tell if this smile was sincere or not, but her approach to the crowd was obviously different from Obama's. She looked like a seasoned politician and knew how to work the crowd. (In contrast, Obama was presenting himself more as a local homeboy.) Anyway, everybody, including myself, stuck out their hands so they could greet Hillary. Hillary actually made eye contact with me and shook my hand!

She then took her place on stage right next to Obama. Obama was standing on the far right side of the stage. Biden, Richardson, and Dodd were standing on the left, in that order.

Then I heard more drums, and that's when I saw the Edwards supporters make their presence known. A river of white Edwards campaign signs flowed into the garage and the crowd squealed with glee. That's when John Edwards took the stage. He was wearing blue jeans, a white dress shirt, and a sports coat. He stood between Dodd and Clinton. Edwards and Clinton shared a brief embrace while the other candidates received handshakes.

Noticeably absent to me (through probably not to the rest of the crowd) were Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. I thought every candidate would come and speak at the fish fry, but I wasn't surprised that these two candidates did not attend. I think they'd receive polite applause, but I can't help but wonder if their presence would be a distraction since they are such longshots, especially in South Carolina. People still don't know who Gravel is and Kucinich's liberal views might be a tough sell in South Carolina, even among Democrats, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, after all six candidates took the stage, Clyburn took the microphone again and thanked everyone for coming out to support the fish fry. He then teased the crowd by saying "there are many wonderful people on the stage with me, but the most important of all of them are..."

Was he going to make an endorsement? Did he have a sentimental favorite?

" two grandchildren!"


Of course, the crowd ate it up and cheered wildly as two children who were no older than 9 or 10 years old smiled on stage. Obama, Edwards, and Clinton clapped politely and smiled. I know everybody on that stage wants Clyburn's endorsement. But the fact of the matter is, they need Clyburn a lot more than Clyburn needs them. Clyburn is much more powerful and much more popular than Governor Mark Sanford, Senator Lindsay Graham, and veteran congressman John Spratt.

Then Clyburn said he wanted to introduce all the candidates from left to right. Again, this was probably planned because the order of the candidates was Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Edwards, Clinton, and finally Obama. (It would be rather anticlimactic if Chris Dodd was the last person to speak, right?)

Biden was first. He gave a brief speech and basically said "he might be down, but he's gonna keep on running" or something to that effect. He obviously knows he's trailing in the polls, but he has nothing to lose. He displayed a playful attitude and clearly conveyed that he'll be in it until the very end.

Next up was Richardson. He also gave a brief speech in which he talked about the debate the previous night. He said he wanted to say so much more than the debate format allowed, and talked a little bit about education (I think).

Dodd was next. His speech was even briefer, but he managed to give a shoutout to South Carolina State University (the debate site on Thursday), which Biden and Richardson did not do. Maybe that won him a few brownie points. Too bad he had lost his voice, as it was quite raspy.

(Here's an interesting aside. While the earlier candidates were speaking, someone behind me gave me a slip of paper and told me to pass it over to Obama. So I told the woman in front of me to pass it on. And she did. Eventually the letter found its way to Obama, and he took it! I was quite surprised. The letter looked like it was one and a half pages long with fairly large font. It was not handwritten, but rather printed from a computer. To my surprise, Obama started reading it. But about five seconds into reading the letter, his facial expression changed. I could not tell if the letter was about a serious subject or if it contained something negative about him or his campaign. But whatever it was, Obama did not look too happy after reading it. He then put the letter back in his pocket and tried to force an enthusiastic smile for the rest of the rally. I guess Obama was put into a really tough position here because if he refused the letter, that would make him appear inaccessible to "his peeps." But because he's still a largely inexperienced politician, he should get used to dealing with bad news. Perhaps he needs a thicker skin?)

Anyway, Edwards was the first of the heavyweights to speak. I could see that Biden, Dodd, and Richardson were visibly annoyed by Edwards' speech because he treated his "introduction" as an opportunity to give a campaign speech. In other words, it took him awhile to finish up. He was able to one-up Dodd by talking about the civil rights movement "in the sixties" and how three Black students from SC State were murdered. He used their sacrifices to talk about the struggle for equality that he's fighting for and how he wants to give a voice to the people who don't have one (i.e., the poor and the disenfranchised). The crowd ate it up.

Clinton took the mike next. She talked about the importance of electing a Democratic president and said that "with our help, we could bring America back to prominence and make the White House the people's house." Those are not her exact words, but I do remember the gist of what she was saying. In other words, she tried to keep the focus on the final goal of kicking the Republicans out of the White House and putting a Democrat (her) in it. Like Dodd, she was losing her voice as well.

Fittingly, the final speaker was Obama. The crowd could not stop hollering before erupting into sustained chants of "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" The Messiah then took the mike and gave what I guess is his standard speech including the line "I have become a vehicle for your hopes and dreams." One thing (I THINK) he did that the other candidates didn't do was give a shoutout to Congressman Clyburn. It appears that Obama is working hard for that coveted endorsement.

After Obama's speech, all the fans would have a chance to meet with the candidates as they worked the crowd. Or so I thought. The only candidate I could see was Biden. Biden was surrounded by cameras as he left the stage and mingled with the crowd. Curiously, Clinton, Richardson, and Dodd were nowhere to be found. Edwards was also missing, which was shocking because he didn't come to the post-debate party the day before either. I think Dodd's absence at the end of the fish fry was a huge mistake because it would have been a good opportunity for him to introduce himself to a lot of eager potential supporters. Biden appeared to be the only candidate who was working for votes.

I was able to make my way to Biden and shake his hand. I asked if he remembered me from the debate earlier and he said he did and also noticed that I wasn't wearing a suit this time. (So he was sincere.) Then he looked at my wife and said, "Oh, and I definitely remember her!" and flashed a cheesy smile. It was too funny. My wife, my sister, Biden, and I all laughed after that. I told Biden than I really had a lot of respect for him and was hoping he could break out. I gave him my business card and told him to please contact me if he needed any help from a journalistic or public relations standpoint. He took my business card, smiled, said he'd contact me, and then posed for a picture with me. Awesome.

(By the way, another person I was particularly impressed with was Dennis Kucinich, even though he was not at the fish fry. After the debate the day before, Kucinich came down to address the dwindling crowd. I was able to get an autograph from him and he and his wife talked with me for about five minutes. I could not believe how much Kucinich was actually interested in me as a person. He asked me questions about which languages I could speak when I told him I was a linguistics student, he demonstrated some of his own foreign language knowledge, he asked me about my travels, and he expressed his appreciation when I complimented him for his courage to say what everyone wants to say but is too afraid of because of the inevitable political recriminations. I know Kucinich is often lampooned by other pundits and talking heads, but I have great respect for him as a person after the wonderful impression he made on me. The extent to which he interacted with me as a person, rather than as a voter, truly impressed me.)

After we left Biden, we searched for any other candidate we could find. I thought Richardson was still floating around, but I couldn't find him. Maybe he had left. Too bad because I'm sure he would have remembered me.

I have to say, I am really impressed with Biden. He's a likable guy after all. It's a shame that the media seem to be giving him a raw deal. I'm still in Richardson's camp because I think he's the GOP's worst nightmare, but I'd be perfectly happy with Biden as the nominee because his intellect would allow him to demolish his Republican opponent in the debates.

Anyway, the last thing I did was try to meet Congressman Clyburn. I wanted to thank him for giving us the VIP tickets to the debate viewing hall. I also wanted to tell him that I was related to one of the close friends of his wife. When I was finally able to work my way over to the stage where he was taking pictures, I thanked him for the tickets and for putting together this awesome party. He smiled, let us take a picture with him and said thank you, although it was clear he was very busy and probably couldn't process what we were trying to say. That's fine.

What an amazing night. We ended up leaving the fish fry at about 10:30, but the crowd was still rocking when we left. I watched some of the news coverage on the local 11:00 news after I got home and people were still partying at the garage. They said about 1600 people showed up, although I have yet to hear any official attendance counts.

Anyway, they might as well change the name of the Sixth Congressional District of South Carolina to Jim Clyburn's Personal Playground. This guy has a stranglehold on this seat for as long as he wants it. What a great party and what a great way to connect with the voters in your district.

Simply awesome.

Before the Debate at SC State: Behind the Scenes

As promised, here's a rundown of my experiences at the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Orangeburg Thursday night.

Thanks to a family connection, I was able to score two tickets to the debate viewing and after-party. When I picked those tickets up on Wednesday from Congressman Jim Clyburn's field office, I found that they were VIP tickets that would allow us to sit on the floor at the large tables in the debate viewing area, which was the campus gymnasium. I was a bit concerned though because three of us were going to attend the debate: myself, my wife, and my sister.

Because I'm on the Bill Richardson campaign mailing list, I was able to arrange for three additional general admission tickets for the debate viewing area. Because we obviously wanted to sit together in the VIP area, we would try and score one more ticket after we arrived at the SC State campus.

The drive from Columbia to Orangeburg went smoothly enough. However, when we got to Highway 601, that's when the traffic backed up. There were South Carolina state troopers and county police officers EVERYWHERE. We could see how Orangeburg was benefiting from the economic boom they had likely been experiencing because of all the media coverage and the large entourages that accompanied the candidates. Marquees outside of local restaurants and hotels were appealing directly for their business.

After arriving at the SC State campus, we noticed immediately that we were in Obama Country, but Clinton and her supporters were clearly not conceding anything. One point to keep in mind is that SC State is a historically Black university located in Orangeburg, a mostly Black town in central South Carolina. It is located squarely in Congressman Jim Clyburn's majority Black district. So the strength of Obama and Clinton in this part of South Carolina is obvious to me. Interestingly, I noticed that while Blacks largely seemed split between Obama and Clinton, the Whites I saw there seemed to be evenly distributed between Obama, Clinton, and Edwards.

I went to the Richardson tent to pick up my three debate viewing tickets. When I asked the worker there about scoring one more VIP ticket, she said there would be a good chance I could since apparently several other Richardson supporters who had committed to attending the debate hadn't shown up yet. She told us to come back at 7:00. I picked up two Bill Richardson for President campaign signs and left.

We were surprised that we had not been subjected to a security screening so far. We didn't bring a camera with us because we thought they were not allowed. So we decided to walk to a nearby drugstore and pick up two disposable cameras there. While we were walking and sweating in the South Carolina heat, several passing motorists looked at my campaign signs. One person, presumably a Republican, shouted from his car that Democrats only want to raise taxes. Obviously, this motorist is not familiar with the issues, nor is he familiar with the candidates because Bill Richardson is probably the most tax-averse Democratic candidate running.

After returning to the campus with our cameras, I decided to mingle with some of the supporters of the other politicians. I approached the Clinton tent and asked the staffers there a few questions. They were polite and engaged me. They asked why I was a Richardson supporter and I asked the same about them and Clinton. I guess I tripped up the supporter I was talking to with her rhetoric when she responded to my question, "Well, I just think Hillary's the best candidate for the job." Okay.

Next I went to the Chris Dodd tent. I was surprised to see so many people there wearing Dodd stickers and T-shirts. This Dodd presence seemed to contradict most polling data I had seen so far, although perhaps it's not so surprising after all in light of straw poll victories for the Dodd camp. When I talked with some of the people congregating around the Dodd table, I found that some of them didn't even know who he was. It turned out that someone had paid them to sport Dodd gear and inflate the presence of his campaign.

Next up was the Biden tent. Nobody was standing there. Only one woman was manning the tent. I asked her what her story was because it seemed that about 95% of the people at the debate were either in the Obama, Clinton, or Edwards camp. She told me how the media haven't done many favors to the voters because they think voters don't have the attention span to pay attention to an eight candidate race. She also said it was still early and that the second-tier candidates hadn't had an opportunity to get their names and messages out.

I wrote about my negative experience with the Obama campaign earlier, so you can read what happened there.

I then spotted two men in the tent next to Richardson's. I approached them and found that they were from the Kucinich campaign. I happily took a bumper sticker and talked with the campaign workers because this was my first experience ever with "the loony gadfly liberal peacinik from Ohio." The man I spoke with seemed considerably more laid back than the other staffers from the other campaigns. We talked a little about Iraq and found some common ground there. I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of what this campaign representative was saying.

And finally, I saw a lone man sitting in the final tent. I guess he arrived late. I guess he was with the Mike Gravel campaign, but I didn't get a chance to talk wit him.

One final thing I want to mention is that there was a Black man wearing a Confederate soldier's uniform and proudly waving a Confederate flag by the street. He seemed to be arguing with all the other Blacks in the area about the flag and his perceived "identity confusion." I can understand these Blacks' obvious consternation. When I had my chance, I decided to approach this man and find out what his story was. Obviously, any Black man proudly waving a Confederate flag goes against the grain and is someone I want to learn more about.

So I calmly approached him and asked him why he was dressed in Confederate garb and why he seemed so angry. To avoid becoming the subject of his ire from the getgo and putting him on the defensive, I told him I was not approaching him in a hostile way. I told him it took a lot of courage for him to do what he was doing where he was doing it because Blacks like this are few and far between. This man seemed to appreciate the compliment and engaged me in a discussion.

It turned out that he was angry with Barack Obama and his supporters because some of them had been hassling him about his Confederate flag. He said that Barack Obama is taking the Black vote for granted and that he has to be more inclusive of all types of people. He thought Obama was a fraud because his supporters representing him at the debate were ostracizing and verbally assailing him. This man said he was considering supporting Obama earlier, but would definitely not do so anymore. He said that I seem to be a different and refreshing type of person and appreciated the way I talked with him. He saw my campaign sign and said that "he would give Mr. Richardson a look" because I represented him well. I am not sure my views represent those of Gov. Richardson regarding the whole Confederacy issue, but I did appreciate the compliment.

We then exchanged business cards. This man's name is H.K. Edgerton and he is the president of an organization known as Southern Heritage 411. I think I was able to get a picture with him, but out of respect for Richardson, I kept the campaign sign out of view. By the way, I had noticed this guy earlier and asked some of the people at the Clinton tent who that man was. They told me they didn't know, but that someone was offering the Clinton people money if they would take a picture of him while holding their Hillary campaign signs.

Wow. Talk about dirty politics.

Later, I saw him giving an interview with NBC News. I left him alone, was able to get that final VIP ticket, and entered the gymnasium to view the debate.


Post-debate reaction: Winners and Losers

I will post more about this tomorrow (it's 2:15 a.m.), but I wanted to provide a brief summary of the candidates' performance at the debate tonight.


Hillary Clinton. She did everything she had to do. Her performance tonight is indicative of her campaign. She didn't hit any home runs, but she methodically belted out a series of successful singles and doubles. She did not come across as particularly engaging or exciting, but she made no mistakes and competently and confidently answered almost every question posed to her. I think the "woman" issue may have been laid to rest because of her performance tonight.

Joe Biden. In terms of beating expectations, Joe Biden performed far better than anyone else on stage tonight. He was knowledgeable, forceful, passionate, and even funny. He also successfully and humorously defused one of the problems that had been hamstringing his campaign--his mouth. Biden didn't have to win the debate tonight and become the new front runner. He simply had to come across as a credible candidate and give people a reason to give his campaign a second look. He more than succeeded in that endeavor.

Dennis Kucinich. To Kucinich's credit, he was the only candidate tonight to openly say what almost every Democrat has been thinking for ages now: that the Iraq War is a farce and that our executive leadership should be impeached. I am not expecting a sudden surge in support for his campaign, but at least he must be respected for his arguments. His best moment was when he took out his pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and reminded the other candidates of what it means when you take the Oath of Office. He also tried to speak directly to the average voter, such as when he talked about the price of his house, unlike the other candidates, which was a nice touch. Kucinich proved tonight that he is not a loony lefty gadfly candidate. He may very well be the conscience of the Democratic Party. I'm honestly not sure why his campaign struggles to gain traction because I think he spoke with more sincerity than almost every other candidate tonight.

Mike Gravel. Nobody knew who this guy was before, but they know who he is now. He was easily the most animated candidate tonight and had the most memorable one-liners. People are not going to flock to his campaign because of his performance tonight, but at least his name recognition among Democrats went up and his brand image should improve.


Bill Richardson. (Fair disclosure: I am a Bill Richardson supporter.) Richardson obviously is quite competent, experienced and intelligent. However, he seemed to try too hard at times to list all of his accomplishments and thus provided overly wordy and tangential answers to fairly simple questions. Thus, he seemed a bit unfocused in his responses at times. However, he did demonstrate that his grasp of foreign policy and executive responsibility far exceeds that of the three front runners. He also stuck up for the Western states when talking about guns, so maybe rural Southern voters may give his campaign a second look as well. I think Richardson did an okay job overall, but I'm not sure if he won over much support from casual observers of politics because he tended to speak at a level above them.


Chris Dodd. Dodd did a respectable job of answering questions and did not make any major mistakes. He did not come across as unlikable, arrogant, or stuffy. However, can you remember anything Dodd said tonight? For a second tier candidate who is generally considered to be running in fifth place, he missed a prime opportunity to reach out to new voters and make a lasting impression on them. Unfortunately for Dodd, he looked like "just another politician" and may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Barack Obama. The debate over Obama's "Blackness" is a major issue with his campaign. However, there's one other debate that's far more threatening for his campaign. It's the "style vs. substance" issue, which ties in with his inexperience. Obama spoke heavily in platitudes and little in specifics, so I'm not sure I learned much of anything from his performance tonight. He seems to have a lot of good and broad ideas, but no details or specific proposals. Biden successfully addressed his weakness in the debate by confronting it head on. Obama, however, did not. Look for his support to soften because I just don't see how he can keep on giving these optimistic speeches without any meat. Also, his lack of experience may be a tremendous liability should he become the nominee. Why in the world was he engaging Dennis Kucinich? Does he really think that standing up to Kucinich is going to win him new votes? What does he accomplish by doing that? Hillary Clinton, who happened to be standing between the two candidates, had to be shouting "Hallelujah!" inside when this spat happened.

John Edwards. Unfortunately, John Edwards appeared like a lightweight tonight. His answers to questions seemed incomplete, evasive, or uninformed. He did not say anything memorable and demonstrated an insufficient command of some of the issues tonight, such as economic ones. He did try hard to sound humble when asked who his most important moral figure was, but it took him a long time to answer the question and his answer seemed insincere. He also recited a few statistics, but he didn't say much in terms of concrete plans. For someone who is a supposed "top tier candidate," he did not come across as one tonight.


Look for Hillary and Biden to see a nice bump in the polls, mostly at Obama and Edwards' expense.

Look for Richardson to gain a few points or to be more widely considered as a "second choice" candidate.

Look for Obama and Edwards to drop. Obama's numbers will probably fall more precipitously than Edwards' because I believe Obama's support is softer. Could this debate be Obama's Howard Dean moment? Meanwhile, Edwards might have to worry about being overtaken by Richardson and Biden.

Look for Dodd's numbers to remain flat. He's still in the game, but needs to be a bit more aggressive and vibrant if he wants to enter the top tier.

Look for Kucinich's numbers to remain flat while his favorability ratings improve.

Look for Gravel's numbers to remain flat while his name recognition improves.

Post-debate reaction: Obama? No thanks.

This is the first of several posts I plan on making about the Democratic presidential debate in Orangeburg this evening. I submitted this post to the Washington Post. Hopefully someone in the Obama camp will read this and fix the problem because I am not particularly enthused about his campaign after my experience at the debate tonight.


Why this Black man is not for Obama

Barack Obama has lost this Black man's vote.

I attended the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Orangeburg Thursday night. I had done some research on the candidates beforehand and had made up my mind about who I was supporting. (I am a Bill Richardson supporter.) However, I was open to talking with people who supported other candidates and wanted to understand their rationale for supporting those candidates. I had no ill intentions whatsoever and simply wanted to have a few friendly debates with my fellow Democrats. Maybe I'd learn a thing or two.

I talked with representatives of the Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Kucinich campaigns with no problem. I stumped them a few times with my questions, and they stumped me a few times as well. Finally, I decided to talk with the representatives of the Obama campaign. The plurality of people at the debate seemed to consist of Obama supporters, so I was excited about the opportunity to find out what makes these voters support him so passionately.

When I approached the Obama tent, I told them that I was not approaching them in a hostile manner because I was proudly clutching my Bill Richardson sign. One of the men there jokingly asked me what it would take to convert me to an Obama supporter. I told him that I had not quite made up my mind about him yet, but was interested in learning more about him. Then I started asking the staff at the tent a few questions. I listened respectfully to their arguments and agreed with some of what they were saying. We were laughing and having a pretty good and engaging discussion.

However, one woman sitting at the table seemed to be quite annoyed with my presence and interrupted me. She rudely told me that I was not welcome at that tent because "it was for Obama supporters only." Then she asked me to leave. Shocked, I told her that I had a lot of respect for Obama and was optimistic about his candidacy. I also told her that her remarks contradicted Obama’s message of inclusion, but she cut me off and told me again to leave. The woman I was happily talking with earlier then cowardly crept away from me and walked over to the sour woman who told me I was to leave because "I was not an Obama supporter." Not wanting to cause a scene, I left.

Needless to say, my first direct encounter with the Obama campaign left me with a negative impression. However, I thought I'd have a second chance when Obama would come and speak at the rally after the debate.

After 90 minutes of rhetoric, ideas, jokes, gaffes, and insinuations, the candidates sauntered into the gymnasium where the rally was held. The first candidate to come out was Hillary Clinton. She gave a rousing speech and did an excellent job of working the crowd. I was able to get an autograph, as was almost everyone else who had shoved a business card, name placard, or sheet of paper in her face.

The next candidate to address the crowd was Barack Obama. He gave a good speech too and the partisan crowd loved it. But when it was his turn to work the crowd, I was sorely disappointed. He took a few pictures with some of the fans in the crowd, but he signed no autographs and refused all sheets of paper that were thrust at him by the people who had managed to get close enough to him, including photographs, business cards, and sheets of scrap paper for him to sign. He just flashed his pearly whites and waved as screaming fans pleaded for him to sign his autograph.

Then he was gone. Strike two.

Obama, his rude campaign staff, and Obamamania in general did not impress me at all. Obama did not really distinguish himself during the debate, his supporters there could not really articulate why they supported him, one of them was exceptionally rude to me, and Obama himself seemed to take his supporters' adulation for granted. Maybe he didn’t want to shake my hand because I was wearing a Bill Richardson sticker. (Clinton, Biden, and Kucinich had no problem with this.) Maybe he didn't shake my hand because he didn't see me. (I was standing no more than two feet away from him.) Maybe he didn’t acknowledge me because he was too busy. (Apparently he was too busy to acknowledge almost every person there who wanted an autograph, and there weren't that many of us there.)

Or maybe he just didn't care. I really don't want to say anything negative about Obama because I think he could potentially be a great president, but that doesn't change the fact that I was sorely disappointed by all elements of him and his campaign tonight.


Canary in a South Carolina Coal Mine?

Here's some interesting news from SC Politics Today concerning the results of the York County Democratic Party's presidential straw poll conducted on Sunday:

Sen. Chris Dodd: 28%
Sen. Barack Obama: 24%
Sen. Hillary Clinton: 18%
Former Sen. John Edwards: 11%
Sen. Joe Biden: 5.5%
Former Vice President Al Gore: 8% (write-in)

(Another 5.5 percent of voters said they didn't know who they would support yet.)
Several interesting conclusions can be drawn from this little publicized poll:

1. John Edwards is in trouble. York County is in the extreme northern part of South Carolina and comprises part of the southern Charlotte suburbs of North Carolina. For John Edwards, a former senator of North Carolina, these results have to be disappointing.

2. Chris Dodd is making significant inroads in South Carolina. However, given Dodd's ties to the financial world (after all, he is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee), these results aren't too surprising since Charlotte is a major financial center with banks all over the place. But still, the fact that a liberal Connecticut senator won a South Carolina straw poll can't be ignored.

3. There is a strong contingent of Gore supporters. Could he be drafted into the race? To receive 8% as a write-in candidate is something to be taken seriously. He consistently polls at about the same levels as John Edwards, and he's not even campaigning! Surely this has to frustrate that son of a mill worker.

4. Obama is in better shape than Hillary, at least according to this poll. Exactly how worried is she about being eclipsed by this guy who just won't go away?

Granted, I don't know much about how many people participated in this poll or how much campaigning the candidates did in York County. However, the poll results are out there now and provide yet another snapshot of some of the subplots taking place beneath the Hillary-Obama heavyweight fight. I can't help but wonder what, if anything, these results portend.

Anyway, Dodd should be particularly pleased. It's news like this that will keep his campaign coffers filled. He can't be counted out yet by any means.


Letter to the editor: Re: Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond

Although The 7-10 generally focuses on national politics, I thought I would include a letter I wrote to the editor of the largest newspaper in South Carolina--The State. This is in reference to the recent story about Al Sharpton finding that his ancestor's slavemaster shares an ancestor with Strom Thurmond.

South Carolina is one of the most conservative states in America. While there are some pockets of progressivism, this state is generally ruby red. (And no, I'm not saying conservative political views translates into racism.) Unfortunately, race relations in this state are not so hot, as is recently evidenced by a few recent letters to the editor that were dismissive of the story and questioned its news value. Here's one example, written by a Mr. John Feaster of Columbia:

Someone please tell me why it is newsworthy who the Rev. Al Sharpton may or may not be related to from more than 100 years ago.

Is he jockeying to get a place in line for any leftover estate?

I obviously could not let this ignorant statement go unchallenged. So I quickly drafted my own letter and sent it to the editor a few minutes ago. I don't know if it will be published there, but I won't let that stop me from posting it here. Take a look at the letter and judge for yourself:

The Rev. Al Sharpton recently found out that his ancestor's slavemaster shares an ancestor with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. And now there have been letters to the editor dismissing the story, asking why this is relevant after more than 150 years, and even questioning Sharpton's motives.

These critics are providing a perfect example of why Blacks have such a high level of mistrust of Whites in South Carolina and throughout the South. Fair or not, there's a perception out there that White people just don't care about Blacks. But Blacks aren't allowed to be dismissive of Whites.

For example, regarding the Confederate flag in front of the statehouse, whenever someone writes a letter expressing a wish that the flag be taken down and placed in a museum, many angry rebuttals soon follow telling the flag opponent that "that flag represents our Southern heritage" and "should be honored." The fact that most Blacks do not respect the Confederacy seems to be a non-issue to them. How dare these Blacks try and minimize our (White) history?

Finding out that one of the most famous civil rights leaders in America (and one of the biggest nemeses of the conservative right) is related to one of the most famous South Carolinians ever who once espoused what the Black leader now fights against is quite newsworthy. It's an amazing coincidence. Many Blacks are unable to trace their family history because of poor records and the fact that so many families were broken up during that terrible time, so this is particularly interesting news to the Black community. But now many Whites are adopting a "who cares?" attitude.

The Confederate flag is a big deal to many White South Carolinians. Slavery is a big deal to many Black South Carolinians. Why is it okay for Whites to minimize Black history regarding tracing their ancestry, but it's not okay for Blacks to minimize White history regarding the Confederate flag? And are any Whites willing to take a stand against the other Whites who are so openly dismissive of this issue? Or is it possible that these critics speak for the majority?

-Anthony Palmer

I really hope they publish this, although I fear it may be a bit too long. It just burns me up to see something so ignorant come out of the mouth of a supposed adult. There are people like this all over the nation, not just in the South. But if my words can reach just one person and get that person to think and reexamine his ideas about this subject, then I will have succeeded. It's obvious that nobody else has much to say about this.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.