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Obama's Don Quixote quest

Posted: July 31, 2012 5:48 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Defying any semblance of logic, some political pundits are now chalking up South Carolina in the swing state category for November’s general election.

The origin of such a peculiar prediction hasn’t been pinpointed, but the theory made headlines earlier this year when Republican strategist Karl Rove joined the fray and said the state would be up for grabs. Rove later recanted his statement, saying he used outdated polling numbers (what … from 1976?), but still decided to leave South Carolina only in the “leans Republican” column.

Either Rove is trying to play tricks with the S.C. Democratic Party, has been drinking some funny Kool-Aid, or really thinks there’s a legitimate shot for Obama to pull off an upset this year.

The only indicators for a Romney defeat in South Carolina this fall would be his shellacking at the hands of Newt Gingrich in last January’s Republican primary. Although considered a shock by some, Gingrich’s triumph was not that far out of left field. The cards were certainly more in his favor than a Massachusetts moderate Mormon trying to make a play in the Deep South.

Of particular note were Gingrich’s debate performances leading up to the Jan. 21 primary. He electrified audiences through confrontations with the media and continuous conservative rhetoric. Exit polls indicated that nearly two-thirds of South Carolina voters went for Gingrich because of the strength he showed in debates.

Additionally, much like Obama’s current strategy, the former speaker of the House aggressively went after Romney’s time as head of Bain Capital. In one interview, Gingrich even described the private equity firm as a group of “rich people figuring out clever ways to loot a company.”

The strategy worked. Republican voters, particularly in the rural parts of the state, shied away from Romney’s “otherness” and went straight to Gingrich. Among voters concerned about the economy, Gingrich substantially outpolled the former Massachusetts governor. For instance, he topped Romney 44 percent to 25 percent among the 21 percent of Republican voters who expressed in exit polls that they were falling behind financially. 

So if Obama can play Romney along the same lines, he should be able to knock him off like Gingrich, right? The answer is no. Obama is nothing like Gingrich and Gingrich is certainly nothing like Obama.

For the most part, Obama has likely already lost the Palmetto State because of the “D” listed next to his name on the ballot.

Looking at the state’s political landscape, the S.C. Republican Party holds all nine statewide offices and holds majorities in the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives. The GOP also holds both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats and five of the state’s six U.S. House of Representatives seats.

Also, the 2010 general election was far from kind to S.C. Democrats.

Despite numerous newspaper endorsements and even praise from typically Republican slanted groups like the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, Democratic nominee Vincent Sheheen was unable to top Gov. Mark Sanford’s protégé, Nikki Haley.

Perhaps with more name recognition and a race centered less around national politics, Sheheen, a Camden native, would have come out on top; nevertheless, voters went for Haley, likely to a large degree because of the “R” listed next to her name.

It seems the higher the office, the less likely a Democrat will be elected in South Carolina. Consequently, for Obama, the outlook is grim. In 2008, Obama, despite massive support nationally, lost to then-Republican nominee John McCain by nine percentage points in the Palmetto State.  

For the last three decades, South Carolina has blazed bright red on the electoral map. That’s not going to change this fall.  

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