Katon Dawson is chairman of the South Carolina Republican party. Minutes after media outlets called the Iowa Caucus for Mike Huckabee, he took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez Thursday night.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Can Huckabee carry this Iowa win to South Carolina?
Katon Dawson: First of all, I would like to congratulate Mike Huckabee and the entire field of Republican candidates for running optimistic and issue-oriented campaigns in Iowa. But South Carolina Republican voters have long been opinion leaders — not followers — who know the stakes are higher than ever in this election. They will stay engaged in the process and make informed decisions, and any candidate who wants to carry our state must stay engaged with our voters.
Lopez: What does he need to do to win South Carolina?
Dawson: Any candidate who wants to win our First-in-the-South Republican party presidential primary knows it takes more than 30-second television ads and clever sound bites to win over our voters. Presidential candidates including Mike Huckabee realize they must come to South Carolina, shake our hands and look us square in the eyes if they want our votes. The citizens of this state are fortunate enough to meet the candidates face-to-face and actually get to know the next President of the United States.
Lopez: Is there any hope for a Mormon in your state? Especially now?
Dawson: As I have said before, our party has a proud tradition of being inclusive. Our candidates have never shied away from talking about their faith, and they shouldn’t start now. Each Republican candidate for president, including Governor Romney, has candidly and passionately discussed the role faith plays in their lives. I hope they continue to keep faith as an important part of the public discourse during this election.
Lopez: If Thompson’s apparent third-place showing sticks, does that give him new life in South Carolina?
Dawson: Each candidate has something to be encouraged about after tonight including Fred Thompson. Iowa doesn’t have the make-or-break history that our State’s primary enjoys, and I believe Thompson is one of a number of Republican presidential hopefuls who can move forward tonight with confidence.
Lopez: Is McCain over?
Dawson: Definitely not. John McCain — like the rest of the Republican field of candidates — has a chance to pitch himself to our voters in our 2008 South Carolina Republican Party Presidential Candidates Debate on Thursday, January 10, 2008. We believe the Republican nomination — and quite possibly the presidential election — could be decided on our stage that night.
Lopez: What should all these candidates keep in mind about South Carolina specifically? How are you different?
Dawson: The South Carolina Republican party’s First-In-The-South presidential primary has grown in significance over time. Since 1980, no candidate has won the Republican nomination for president without winning South Carolina’s Republican primary. We pick presidents.