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2016 Presidential Race Comes to South Carolina

How important are the South Carolina primaries to the 2016 presidential race?

South Carolina is usually important, but given the complete muddle in both parties coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, the state is particularly important this year. On the Republican side, South Carolina is a microcosm of the Republican Party, so the state is probably a better measure of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses among GOP voters going forward. We have evangelicals, business, military and Tea Party, as well as transplants and retirees from the North and Midwest. The candidates have more to navigate in South Carolina. On the Democratic side, this is the first state with a significant African American population. So it’s the first real test of whether Sanders can cut into Clinton’s support among African-Americans, which he has to do to win the nomination.

Who is likely to do well and who poorly in the Republican primary? Who needs to do well?

There seems to be two separate races going on in the Republican primary. The first is the contest for those voters who are angry and mistrustful of government. They want an outsider, and they aren’t real worried about practical concerns that the nominee can actually do what he says. They want someone who gives voice to their anger. They are deciding between Trump and Cruz. Right now, that seems to be Trump’s race to lose. The second race is for those voters who recognize that talking is not governing, and they are searching for someone who can actually address the country’s problems while moving things in a conservative direction. This group of voters is also looking for a candidate that won’t embarrass or destroy the GOP’s long term interests. They are deciding among Bush, Kasich and Rubio, and that’s a very fluid race at this point. If Bush doesn’t come out on top of that group in South Carolina, he’s probably done. If he wins that battle, whichever of the other two come in second could keep going if they keep it close. But I have no idea who wins that battle. Their campaign efforts this week matter a lot.

What about the Democratic primary?

Hillary Clinton should have the edge because she seems to be doing well among African American voters who make up at least half of the likely Democratic turnout in the state. If Sanders can’t cut into her advantage with that group of voters, South Carolina will be the beginning of the end for him. However, if Clinton doesn’t meet expectations here and win handily, the Democratic nomination could drag on for a while because Sanders’ supporters definitely have the advantage in enthusiasm.

Given the history of South Carolina’s primary politics, some of the media has been talking about a potential bloodbath in 2016? How would you characterize campaigning in the state thus far?

Politics can get rough in South Carolina. Right now, it seems to be the Super Pacs hitting the hardest on television ads. Often that sort of thing happens a little below the radar via email and phone calls, but in the last two days, Rubio, Cruz, and Trump have been calling each other liars pretty openly in the press and at their events. Despite the state’s reputation for nasty campaigns, the attacks often haven’t been rewarded by voters in recent years. At least in our gubernatorial campaigns, they’ve backfired and generated support for the person being attacked if the attacks seem to be too personal or over the top.

What are the chances South Carolina will pick the future nominees for each party?

I wouldn’t hazard a guess on the Republican side. There’s too much going on and too many candidates who are too unpredictable. I think on the Democratic side, if Clinton hangs on to the support she seems to have in the polls in South Carolina, it will give her an easier road to the nomination.

Last updated February 17, 2016
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director