Politics & Policy

Rudy Meets His Brooklyn Peeps — Way Down South

The mayor campaigns with I-95 immigrants.

Okatie, South Carolina — It’s 11:15 Friday morning here at the Sun City Hilton Head retirement community, deep in the coastal Low Country of South Carolina. Several hundred seniors — “active adults,” as they’re called at Sun City — are waiting for Rudy Giuliani, who was scheduled to appear at 11:00. Being a little late is normal on the campaign trail — there are always distractions and delays, and in any event, aides want to give people a little extra time to get the biggest possible crowd. But scheduling practices that work well at, say, a college campus or an office park don’t work as well with the active — and very punctual — adults.

“He’s late,” one woman tells me. “I’ve got a Salsa class at noon.” It’s a beautiful day, 65 degrees and sunny, and she has been waiting quite a while for Giuliani to appear at the covered pavilion, located at the center of Sun City’s 45-acre recreation campus. Many, perhaps most, of the other seniors at the Sun City rally have been waiting, too; Giuliani could have shown up a half-hour early and still had most of his audience.

So they’re more than ready. Finally, a few moments later, Giuliani appears from outside the pavilion and walks to the microphone. And here in Okatie, amidst the marshes and moss-draped oaks of coastal South Carolina, the mayor gets a rousing…Brooklyn welcome.

Giuliani just happens to have brought with him New York Rep. Peter King, from Nassau County, who is accompanying the mayor on this trip to South Carolina and Florida. “Congressman King comes from New York,” Giuliani tells the crowd. “Pete, you originally come from Brooklyn, too?”

Well, he actually grew up in Queens. But King just nods, and Giuliani’s New York talk brings lots of applause.

“He also comes from Brooklyn originally,” Giuliani says again, in case anyone didn’t hear.

More applause.

There are a lot of members of Sun City’s New York Club at today’s event. There are dozens and dozens of clubs, covering all sorts of interests and activities, at Sun City, and one of the bigger ones is for people who have moved to the Low Country from New York. They like their old mayor. And there are a lot of them. An official at Pulte Homes, which owns Sun City, tells me that the great majority of the community’s more than 10,000 residents are from out of state, and the states that the largest number come from are New York and New Jersey. Put them together with another large group of retirees, from Ohio, and this is not exactly a southern crowd. Not even close to a southern crowd.

Giuliani is playing for approval in a part of South Carolina that doesn’t receive much attention amid all the punditry about evangelical Christians and Republican power bases. Especially in its coastal areas, South Carolina is changing, with thousands of northerners heading down I-95 to retire, enjoy the weather, and start up the golf cart. You can argue whether that is good, bad, or indifferent — lots of native South Carolinians would probably say bad — but it’s happening, and it’s changing the state.

The Giuliani team knows it. “One of the misconceptions is that if you’re in Berkeley County (north of Charleston), that’s the same thing as being across the street from Bob Jones University,” one Giuliani aide tells me. “It’s a much more diverse state than that. It’s not unusual to look out in these crowds and see people wearing Yankees T-shirts. That’s one of the things we’re used to seeing in Florida.”

At Sun City Hilton Head, at least, a lot of them are Republicans — in the 2004 presidential election, one precinct in Sun City Hilton Head produced more votes than any other precinct in Beaufort County, with George W. Bush trouncing John Kerry, 1,243 to 656. But at the same time, they are changing GOP politics. “They are conservative, and they generally vote Republican,” says David Woodward, the Clemson University political scientist who conducts the widely-cited Palmetto Poll. “But they are not social conservatives. They are economic conservatives, deep into the economy and their 401k’s.” It’s not an accident that Giuliani speaks to the group in front of a big sign that says YOUR MONEY, YOUR CHOICE.

A generation ago, South Carolina was a pretty much homogenously southern state. Now, about one-fifth of its residents come from outside the South, a number not much different from Georgia’s or North Carolina’s. Woodard, not a native but a long-time resident of South Carolina, sometimes finds himself amazed at the changes. He recalls giving a speech recently in Oconee County, another area attracting out-of-state residents. It was just before the all-important Clemson-South Carolina football game, but what Woodard hadn’t noticed was that it was also around the time of the Michigan-Ohio State game. “I felt like I was in another world,” Woodard tells me. “All these guys in the audience were talking about was Michigan and Ohio State.”

That’s a significant part of the South Carolina that will vote in January. And it’s the South Carolina Rudy Giuliani thinks he can win.

–Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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