It occurred to me while watching Howard Dean’s victory (?) speech in New Hampshire that the Democrats are running a campaign to return America to the 1960s. And I wondered how that message will be received in South Carolina next Tuesday–where people are still trying to recover from the ’60s.
It’s hard to imagine how the gulf between New Hampshire and South Carolina could be wider. In New Hampshire Tuesday night, 61 percent of self-identified “moderates” cast their votes for the two most liberal major candidates, Kerry and Dean. When a majority of moderates back candidates who oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and support abortion on demand, you know you’re in liberal territory.
Not so in South Carolina, where many moderate Democrats actually voted for President Bush. If civil unions and racial quotas are big vote getters in South Carolina, it’s never been in evidence before.
Which is why the two big names in South Carolina won’t be Kerry and Dean, but Edwards and Sharpton. “What about Wesley Clark,” you ask? Answer: Don’t ask.
His tie with Edwards–who was in the single digits a week ago–is a loss for Clark. Remember that, while Edwards was campaigning in Iowa, Clark was all alone in the Granite State, spending tons of dough and driving his poll numbers up to second place. Clark invested too much in New Hampshire to call 13 percent anything but a defeat.
Similarly, Clark his been on TV in South Carolina heavily for several weeks and still has yet to take off. He has a staff, and he has money. But neither polling data nor anecdotal information indicate a Clark surge in South Carolina.
Then again, look at his campaign the past ten days: the cover of The Advocate magazine; calling marriage “a term of art”; announcing his support for legal abortions up to the moment of delivery (then attempting to retract it); refusing to reject the charge of “deserter” against President Bush made by Clark supporter Michael Moore; having Michael Moore as a supporter. All that’s left is for him to attack the Confederate Flag as racist…which he already did. It’s hard to see the winning strategy for South Carolina in this.
Then again, most South Carolinians aren’t Democrats, so it could be argued that Clark is right where he needs to be. But with two well-funded liberals who have already beaten him in New Hampshire in the race, Wesley Clark needs the center to win in South Carolina, and the center is already taken.
Every FDR Democrat who isn’t a Yankee retiree will be voting for John Edwards. Nearly every black voter not willing to cast his lot with Angry Al Sharpton will back Edwards. Every proud southerner looking for a “native son,” every liberal woman susceptible to his boyish charms, every attorney and opponent of tort reform (not an inconsequential number), every die-hard Dixiecrat who’s sick of northeastern liberals and every inattentive couch potato who thinks it would be cool to have a TV psychic as president (also not inconsequential), they are all Edwards voters and nothing happened in New Hampshire to change their minds.
If Wesley Clark had come in second or better, if he had put a scare in Kerry or Dean, or if he had used New Hampshire to create some point of differentiation between himself and the rest of the field, perhaps he might give Edwards a fight down South.
Instead, Clark showed that the more people got to know him, the less likely they were to vote for him. And he’s currently doing his darndest to prove the same thing to the people of South Carolina.
With Gephardt out and South Carolina’s prominent black congressman Jim Clyburn on the sidelines, Edwards’s support among black voters is going straight up. With Kerry and Dean fighting for the title “Mr. Liberal,” Edwards is the choice of the white moderates who want to reshape their party. And with Kerry all but announcing he’s writing off the south, loyal southerners can give their vote to one of their own.
The real question is whether or not Kerry and Dean are smart enough to concede South Carolina to Edwards and, thereby, diminish its importance. Why should it be a setback to Kerry to come in third in South Carolina if he wins Missouri? The same for Howard Dean if he takes Arizona?
Watch for lots more talk from John Kerry about winning southern states like “Missouri and West Virginia.” And watch for lots of eye rolling from real southerners who know the difference.
–Radio-talk-host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.