The Sure Thing

South Carolina voters will dash presidential hopes.

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Even though the Democrats go to the polls a week later than the Republicans, who vote next Saturday, the Democratic race is somewhat easier to read. At least for now.

John Edwards's return to his storied home of Seneca will not be a happy one. Edwards is almost certain to drop out of the race following a Palmetto state tilt in which he is an afterthought, despite winning the state in the 2004 primary. His "son-of-a-mill worker" spiel has fallen flat in state that is either solidly Republican where the mills once were and/or too prosperous for Edwards' brand of class warfare to find purchase.

A disastrous trip to Clemson University, a fairly conservative campus where suburban and rural kids go to get degrees before landing in Atlanta, Columbia, Charleston, or Charlotte as architects and engineers—the oppressive hand of Edwards' evil oligarchy is fiendishly well-hidden in this process—told the tale.

Edwards staffers were having trouble getting Clemson University students to hold up his placards for the traditional campaign stop backdrop. Charlotte Observer reporter Taylor Bright captured this exchange:

"You guys want them?"

"Hell, no."

"I'll spit on it."

With Edwards defanged, is it going to be full-steam ahead for the Comeback Gal, Hillary Clinton? Well, no.

The other day Clinton, in trying to argue the need for experienced politicians to bring social movements into the realm of actual policy changes, seemed to suggest that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been nothing without LBJ to sign Great Society laws. Worse, Bill Clinton somehow managed to turn criticism of Barack Obama's dreamy personal narrative into an attack on "fairy tales."

This caught the political antennae of Rep. Jim Clyburn, the dean of black pols in the state and one who had thus far stayed neutral in the presidential campaign. To him, this sounded like the Clintons were dissing the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

This isn't semantics to pols like Clyburn or the network of black churches that continue to form the backbone of political life for blacks in South Carolina. The King Dream is not a distant rhetorical point for them, but a vital part of their own internal narrative and justification, one that is deployed weekly by these leaders. The Clintons have bumbled into attacking the legitimacy of the black leaders they carefully cultivated. Rumors are now afoot that Clyburn will endorse Obama as a result.

It was that black leadership support, along with what nascent labor movement there exists in a right-to-work state like South Carolina, that Clinton was counting on to counter Barack Obama's popularity with younger blacks in a very, very large pool of black votes in the state.

There is still time for Clinton to patch this rift up and the campaign is already moving to do so. And to paraphrase Robert Plant, crying won't help you but praying might do you so me good. Expect to see Hillary hit the black church circuit hard.

As for Obama, South Carolina is put up or shut time. His rally with Oprah Winfrey in Columbia several weeks ago drew a delirious crowd of 30,000. The state with both its large black population and sustained economic growth and prosperity seem ready-made for his uplifting and inclusive message. Maybe a book club, too. Obama is believed to be in the lead among South Carolina voters at the moment, but we all know how his supposed lead fared in New Hampshire. In addition, Hillary is on the air with a TV spot that hits all the liberal hot-buttons on health care and entitlements.

Did you know that the junior senator from New York single-handedly stopped George Bush from "handing Social Security over to Wall Street?" South Carolina voters do.

On the GOP side, it is Fred Thompson playing the role of John Edwards. Thompson has to make a dent or go home. To that end, Thompson spent last night's GOP debate beating on fellow Southerner Mike Huckabee and may have scored a few points on Huckabee's tax-hiking record.

Huckabee is in a dead heat with Arizona Senator John McCain, who seems to draw much support from the state's well of military and military retiree families despite his soft-on-immigration stance. Make no mistake, in Republican circles in South Carolina a border-long fence is an impossibly wish-washy position and the only open question permitted is when to round up the 12 million illegals in the country—now or two weeks from now. McCain may yet falter on this issue.

For that reason it is somewhat surprising to see Mitt Romney pack up and leave the state. The "CEO President" axed his line of ads last week.

Romney was endorsed by the state's hardcore "amnesty" opponent Senator Jim DeMint, while McCain has the support of major "amnesty" backer Senator Lindsey Graham. Romney backed up the endorsement with over $2 million in TV ads in the state, a campaign remarkable for the fact that no one seems to have seen the ads or taken in any of their stirring imagery and swelling music. This lack of impact together with the need to get a slam dunk in Michigan on Tuesday has Romney set to finish in the middle of the pack in Carolina.

To recap, we have a McCain-Huckabee tussle at the top, Thompson trying hard to get traction, Romney AWOL, with Rudy and Ron bringing up the rear. The Mayor of 9/11 is drawing his line in the sand in Florida among the high-walls of Del Boca Vista Phase II and is conserving resources to that end. Paul is merely playing out the string.

The only thing we know about the race is that, after the ballots are cast, half of these candidates will be lying flat on the field and unable to go on. It's about time.

Reason contributor Jeff Taylor writes from North Carolina.

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  1. Hopefully, Hillary will be one of those winnowed down.

  2. Wow, you guys really know how to dangle the Ron Paul carrot with those lead-ins…

  3. I think Edwards has too much money to give up yet. He wants to play the role of spoiler and he will be given the opportunity. He could cut a deal and drop out, but the Dem winner will need to draw in his political following, and I think that is just what he wants.

    Ok, I agree that SC will probably break the back of Fred. No momentum and no battle chest in a neighboring state. He’s sunk and my bet is that he’ll give Romney an endorsement after his concession.

    But this thing ain’t over. There is no way that Romney gives up this easily and I just don’t see Edwards doing it either without some political promises to him.

  4. Right now, if Edwards is playing the spoiling anyone, it’s Obama (by splitting the anti-Hillary vote). He has to pick his moment to drop/sell out very carefully. If he goes too late, then he’s selling out to a candidate who can’t win because Edwards gave too many states to his opponent.

  5. And to paraphrase Robert Plant, crying won’t help you but praying might do you so me good.

    The hell? Me love you long time!

  6. . . . ’cause when the levee breaks,
    I’ll have no place to pray

  7. But this thing ain’t over. There is no way that Romney gives up this easily

    That’s what I thought, but I was talking with a diehard Romney supporter yesterday — someone who’s wife and him have given the maximum legal contribution — and he said that if Romney doesn’t win in Michigan, he’s toast.

  8. Ummm, substitute proper English for “who’s wife and him” in above post.

  9. That’s what I thought, but I was talking with a diehard Romney supporter yesterday — someone proper English have given the maximum legal contribution — and he said that if Romney doesn’t win in Michigan, he’s toast.

    Nope. Still doesn’t make sense. 🙂

  10. sixstring — LOL!

  11. But he’s ahead! In delegates! And the new “loveable” software will be released soon!

  12. Thompson is dead. He’s currently polling last in Michigan, and a weak 4th in South Carolina. It would take an act of God for him to get back in this race, and Huckabee has a monopoly on acts of God.

  13. Someone once tried to explain to me that when she played the same numbers every week she was actually improving her odds because those numbers hadn’t been picked before. Her argument was unpersuasive.

  14. It would help if I actually posted that comment in the lottery thread.

  15. “Thompson is dead. He’s currently polling last in Michigan, and a weak 4th in South Carolina. It would take an act of God for him to get back in this race, and Huckabee has a monopoly on acts of God.”

    Thompson just needs to start drinking the right kind of “Jesus juice”.

  16. It would help if I actually posted that comment in the lottery thread.

    It makes perfect sense here as well, mapping as it does almost perfectly on the same ol’ same ol’ we’re getting from the candidates.

  17. No, de stijl, somehow it fits here too. After all these are the same folks voting for Edwards or Huckabee.

  18. Damn you RC!

  19. Repblican primaries are fun when there’s no establishment candidate.

    I’ve only been paying attention since about 1984. Has there even been a Republican contest like this before?

  20. joe–

    The last one that was this much fun was ’64. Ford came to the ’76 convention without things locked up, but Reagan was seen as unelectable so Gerry got the nod.

  21. “Paul is merely playing out the string.”

    I don’t get it.

  22. I think Edwards has too much money to give up yet.

    You may be right, but I expect he’s gonna fold almost immediately after SC. There’s only so much confidence one can have with showings of 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, … in what’s effectively been a field of three for a while now. The fact that his acceptance of matching funds make it difficult for him to compete money-wise in the general just make it even more unlikely. I’d guess he’s been staying in to somehow convince whoever wins that he should be their running mate. I don’t see how that works either.

    If Edwards leaves the race soon enough, Obama has it sewn up. Keep in mind I don’t know shit about campaigns and I’m talking out of my ass here. If he doesn’t leave soon enough, Obama probably still wins but it’ll last longer.

  23. Jeff A. Taylor can’t wait for the South Carolina primary to winnow down the presidential field.

    Ahem. In the great state of Michigan, we are having a primary on Tuesday. Due to party politics, the Dem’s doesn’t mean a thing. OTOH, the GOP primary is going to be very unkind to Rudy. I think both Romney and McCain really want this one. Huckster gets a distant third.

  24. On the Republican side, I honestly can’t see why Fred Thompson is still in at all. His showing has been abysmal and I don’t recall his polling nationally ever having been that good.

    I can’t see how Giuliani will stay in either, but then again, he is insane. His national numbers have been dropping for a while and the last I saw he wasn’t even in the lead in Florida, supposedly the state that will prove that he can git’r’done. If he comes in third in Florida and screams “VINDICATION,” no one will be buying it.

    Romney may stay in a while, but getting a string of 2nds or lower in every state that people are paying attention to (sorry, Wyoming) will only keep you alive for so long, delegate and overall vote lead or no. I know he has a lot of money, but it seems he’s been spending like a [clich?]drunken sailor[/clich?]. I can’t see how he lasts much past Giuliani unless he actually wins Michigan (which I guess he could); if he loses there I think even with his ego he’ll know it’s done. Even a close win there probably doesn’t help him much.

    Ron Paul still has a lot of money and he’s been spending like an [clich?]opposite of a drunken sailor[/clich?]. He could stay in indefinitely with the money he has, but if I remember correctly, he’s said that if he doesn’t start doing well (or at least better), he’ll consider quitting after the “Super” Tuesday.

    I don’t think a McCain versus Huckabee prediction will win me any points for boldness, but well, that’s how it goes I guess. Paul or Romney could hang around a while, but I expect that Romney will get out relatively quickly (maybe after Michigan, if not, after Bizarro Tuesday). If Paul stays in, that he’ll do about what he’s done so far or a little worse until the end – probably not enough to be much of a factor. Then again, my disclaimer from the Democratic comments still stands: I am an idiot and have no idea what I am talking about.

  25. Damn you RC!

    joe, its really impolite to post under other people’s handles.

    You may be right, but I expect he’s gonna fold almost immediately after SC.

    I think Edwards is basically waiting for one or both of the Big Two to get fatally wounded, so I expect he’ll stick around. If Hillary’s minions get just a little out of control knifing Obama, she will have done herself permanent damage with a good chunk of the Dem electorate, making her extra vulnerable.

  26. I think Edwards is basically waiting for one or both of the Big Two to get fatally wounded, so I expect he’ll stick around. If Hillary’s minions get just a little out of control knifing Obama, she will have done herself permanent damage with a good chunk of the Dem electorate, making her extra vulnerable.

    I saw on one of the Sunday shows an interview with Edwards saying he was staying in till the convention.
    I suppose that could be just a line for his supporters, but …

    On another topic, does anyone think Ron Paul will be the pick for VP? (After posting that, I don’t know whether to laugh histerically, or to give it a serious ponderin’)

  27. NAL,

    Depends on whose VP. If Obama wrapped up the nomination by crushing Hillary soon enough, I can dream that he picks Paul as his VP for some crossover cred and proceeds to mop the floor with McCain/Lieberman (followed by Bllomberg/Hagel)

    Heeeheeeheee, evil thoughts approacheth.

  28. I’m not so sure an Edwards dropout would benefit Obama…Obama has that Adlai Stevenson thing going on that probably wouldn’t sell so well with the populist democrats that Edwards attracts. Edwards staying in allows Obama to take the high ground while Edwards pummels Hillary with shots. Without Edwards, Obama would have to get dirty, and that would piss off a sizable number of his supporters.

    On VP, an Obama/Richardson ticket would be powerful electorally; Richardson is well-liked in his state, which puts the southwest into play, and is a foreign policy wonk with experience that Obama lacks.

    For Paul, he could go crazy with his VP guy…I like the idea a lot that he could pick a judge, like Napolitano, Posner, or Kozinski…Judges have an interesting perspective that is not often seen in electoral politics, and could bolster his “I’m the only constitutionalist in this race, bitches!” image even further.

  29. I’d love to see RP appoint any of those judges to the supreme court or to head the DoJ, but why would you waste their talents on the vice presidency?

    -jcr

  30. JCR —

    It would somewhat of a waste of their talents *in office*…however, on the campaign trail they are a great asset. People trust and listen to judges more seriously and respectfully than any other class of political office. It would give an opportunity to talk about the state of the law from someone who experiences it day-to-day in adjudication. It provides a means to bring the Constitution into the conversation in a more meaningful way than I think Paul so far has managed.

    Besides, as President of the Senate, a judge could take out all that repressed rage towards badly written legislation writers and smack a few senators around. That would be fun to watch.

  31. Addendum — On second thought Kozinski couldn’t do it, as he doesn’t meet the constitutional qualifications for office, i.e. he is not a natural-born citizen.

    It’s too bad, too, because he is a dynamic and charismatic judge, so far as judges go.

  32. If Obama wrapped up the nomination by crushing Hillary soon enough, I can dream that he picks Paul as his VP for some crossover cred

    The question is, if that happened, would Don Black donate to the Obama/Paul campaign?

  33. Then again, I doubt Paul would accept VP from anyone…it would be a pretty useless office to a 72-year-old guy who’s not going to be moving up in the ranks. Also, he wouldn’t want to be associated with the actions of someone who he disagreed with and couldn’t control (well, this time at least). I could see him maybe accepting Secy of the Treasury if it was offered, but he might not like signing all that fiat money.

    The position I’d love to see him in is Ambassador to the UN…that would be a show indeed.

  34. Now that I think about it, as VP he’d preside over the Senate and get to break any ties, so that alone is enough to prevent any candidate from selecting him. He has a history of “not playing ball”.

  35. “he is not a natural-born citizen”

    Bummer. I guess I knew that, but it isn’t something that comes to mind.

    He’s a far better argument for an amendment to allow naturalized citizens to be president than Arnold.

    -jcr

  36. Actually Clemson University is not populated soley by southern kids. I attended 97-03 and the state with the 2nd largest number of students attending was New York. Clemson is a pretty popular school for some kids in the northeast. So while it doesn’t suprise me that Edwards was tepidly recieved there it’s not like it was all local kids.

    Not that it has anything to do with the article but how can he mention where Clemson grads go to work after graduation and not mention Greenville? There are a lot more Clemson engineers here than any of those other cities.

  37. Someone Who … —
    Look, SC is Edwards’ home state. He’s a Southern white progressive; the fact that he’s polling third in South Carolina is a pretty bad sign for his campaign. I’d be willing to bet on Obama for this one, just given his numbers (9-point lead, IIRC).

    Elemenope —
    An Obama-Richardson ticket would be smart. Balances out the foreign policy weakness, which is my biggest worry there. And Obama has a bit of a problem with Hispanics (well, it’s more that Clinton has a very good relationship with them) so Richardson would clearly be an asset.

  38. Ron Paul is “merely playing out the string”? I think you mean “Duncan Hunter” in that sentence.

    Ron Paul has earned more actual votes so far than Giuliani or Thompson, by a wide margin. He has as much cash on hand as anyone, and far more volunteers on the ground in every state.

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