I mean in terms of the presidential primary process.
Starting in 1988, and ending in 2012, SC was in many ways the contest Republicans had to win. It was key to both of the Bushes especially. SC Republicans went around saying things like “We choose presidents,” yadda yadda. They did this because they picked mainstream, establishment candidates with appeal beyond the base, and our early primary helped tip the selection process in their favor.
Then, in 2012, it all fell apart with the rejection of Mitt Romney in favor of the fire-breathing Newt Gingrich. And we know what happened in 2016 — yeah, SC Repubs picked the eventual winner, but the whole national electorate had to go stark, raving mad in order for that to happen. At the time of the SC primary, it looked like Palmetto State Republicans were chasing off in another crazy direction alone, as with Gingrich. If decisions were still made in smoke-filled rooms by a party elite, SC would have lost its early primary by now. (In saner times, SC Republicans would have salvaged the hopes of the hapless Jeb! They had never let a Bush down before.)
Meanwhile, over the last few elections, this red state has gotten more important to Democrats. I was impressed by how many Dems we saw trooping though our editorial boardroom in 2003-4 (my own favorite being, famously or infamously, Joe Lieberman). And while he didn’t get the nomination, the execrable John Edwards’ win here helped get him the second spot on the ticket.
SC was very helpful in helping Barack Obama get the momentum he needed to pull ahead in 2008. The SC Democratic primary wasn’t really a contest in 2016, with Hillary Clinton winning hands-down as expected.
But this year, you’d think the Democratic nomination was going to be awarded right here, on the spot, next Feb. 29. They’ve been trooping through here in battalions, for months. (You’ve seen me complain about that distraction, and media fascination with 2020 over 2018, back during the campaign last fall.)
This is an interesting phenomenon. There have always been some aspects of the Democratic contest in this blood-red state that caused folks to pay attention nationally. That was largely because there are essentially no black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, so Dems who won in those places would be told, “Let’s just wait and see how you do in South Carolina.”
But this thing we’re seeing now exceeds what we’ve seen in the past. With the huge field, and particularly with some of the chief contestants in it being African-American, we are looming large.
I’ve had a lot of occasions to note this; we all have. What kicked this off today was Vanity Fair’s “The Hive” making this observation about Bernie Sanders:
None of Sanders’s opponents are scared by those numbers, however. Because what Sanders was less good at in 2016 was spending his large pile of money to win votes. Particularly the crucial Democratic primary votes of women and African-Americans. Especially in the key state of South Carolina. And three years after being crushed by 47 points there by Hillary Clinton, with an even more challenging field of primary rivals shaping up, Sanders is showing little sign that he’s going to get it right this time around. True, in January he spoke in South Carolina on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Sanders has also taken every opportunityto blast President Donald Trump as a racist. Yet Sanders remains remarkably awkward on the subject…
The piece ends with a lengthy quote from our own Bakari Sellers.
I don’t know why that particularly grabbed me. Something about Vanity Fair of all entities calling poor li’l ol’ us “the key state.” Anyway, you’ll be reading plenty more like that.
This is deeply ironic, of course — a state that hasn’t been in play in the general election being so important to Democrats. But it’s increasingly a thing, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out going forward.
In short, will this story have a happy ending (with Joe Biden deciding to run, winning in SC, and going on to win the White House), or not? That’s my perspective, anyway…