American Dispatch: “First In the South”


By: FOX News Radio’s Eben Brown in Columbia, SC

It’s the final push before South Carolina’s “First in the South” Presidential primary, and Republican enthusiasts in this state are furiously trying to convince their friends that their candidate is the best man to do a job they all seem to believe needs doing; defeating President Obama in his bid for re-election.

It’s a land unlike the cornfields full of farmers in Iowa to which hopeful candidates spend so much of their initial campaign money.  It’s unlike the frigid suburbs of New Hampshire where an aspiring nominee tries to prove that Iowa didn’t decide the primary race in favor of someone else.

This is the South, y’all.

“We’re the soul,” says Margery Chavez, who attended a Rick Perry event in Columbia a week before the Texas Governor left the race. This is where the United States gets its image.

It’s where neighbors still gather on front porches to drink sweet tea and where your local celebrities are your preacher and your high school quarterback.  It’s unsophisticated.  It’s unpolished.  It’s dotted with pick-up trucks and stock-car racing fans.  But it’s also charming, comforting, and pleasant.

And, it’s also where you address your elders as “sir” or “ma’am.”  Where people take pride in getting their hands dirty and where sweat is valued with dollars and admiration.  It’s also where daily meals are family functions.  Breakfast means bacon and biscuits.  Barbecue is more competition than lunch, and gumbo recipes are closely guarded family secrets.

It’s a far cry from the Northeast or West Coast metropolis, where euro-chic culture is pined after and where millions of people walk the same sidewalk at the same time without talking to one another.  Here, they care about their kids being able to find jobs.  They prefer to work for something, and hold on to it.  They adore the military.  They want to make sure the country can defend itself.

These folks want to know if a candidate is just like them.  Decades ago, it would matter what church the candidate attended.  Today, they just want a candidate to attend a church.  They want someone who they wouldn’t mind on the other side of the fence in adjacent yards.

The South is also where GOP Presidential candidates are made or broken.  Florida’s decision to move its primary to January 31st, squeezes the traditionally early states into a close calendar.  This highlights even more the importance of the South’s votes.

This year, South Carolina has a total of 25 delegates to be won.  Twenty-two will be pledged on primary night, the remainder at the RNC.  Florida will give whoever wins the sunshine state’s primary all of its 50 delegates.  What a way to build your confidence heading into Super Tuesday!  A candidate could then sweep the whole deal heading into the contests in Texas and California, which combined have more than 350 delegates up for grabs.

“The yankees don’t have it down right,” adds Chavez.  “We know the real deal down here.”  In fact, it has been South Carolina that is the sieve this time around.  In this week leading up to the primary, both Jon Hunstman and Rick Perry bowed out.  Mitt Romney’s had trouble keeping a lead in opinion polls.

If you ask a southerner why, they’d tell you it’s the most diverse place in the country.  You find all walks of life in the south.  “South Carolina is a picture of the heartbeat of America,” says Danny Himsey.  He came out to hear Newt Gingrich speak in Warrenville.  “I know the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary is not a picture of what America is.  It is a picture of what America isn’t.” 

It’s true that in the south you find everybody.  There are Caucasians and African-Americans.  There are all sorts of Christians, enduring Jewish communities, and even American Muslims.  It’s hard to find someone here who doesn’t have Latino or Native American heritage from at least one grandparent.  Aside from those folks, you have all variations of Eastern Asians.  I once had gumbo and spring rolls for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi.  And it was good.

The rule applies to South Carolina for sure.  And that’s why South Carolinians insist their primary is more important.  “If you do well here, you can play to the whole country,” says Chad Connelly, the chairman of the state’s Republican Party.

It could be the case.  But Florida, which holds their primary just ten days later, claims the same thing.  Florida has an exponentially larger, yet just as diverse population.

It also has more expensive media markets.  Candidates will need to spend more money traveling to shake hands, but they will also need to spend more money to approve messages in television ads.  But one thing’s for sure:  No candidate is going to get to stock up early on delegates without winning in the South.

Listen HERE to some of Eben Brown’s reporting from South Carolina: