February 03, 2004,
Regardless of how the vote comes out Tuesday, the South Carolina primary has already failed.
Remember how the early South Carolina primary was supposed to move Democratic candidates to the right or at least away from the left? Never happened. Howard Dean and John Kerry fought their way to the left and stayed there. Instead of moving towards moderates, both campaigns pointed out that, mathematically speaking, the south wasn't an essential part of the Democratic-party coalition.
And what about the "values" issues that church-going South Carolinians were supposed to bring to the candidates' attention? Kerry supports partial-birth abortion, Wesley Clark supports abortion up to the moment of delivery, and even supposed "moderate" John Edwards is preaching class-warfare straight out of the Karl Marx campaign manual.
Politically, South Carolina has proven to be a non-starter as well. When John Edwards wins Tuesday, it will mean nothing even when his margin over Kerry is an impressive 10 percent or more (my prediction). Where does Edwards go from here? Tennessee and Virginia? Sure, they vote in a week. But even assuming an Edwards sweep in those states, all that makes John Edwards is a southern senator who won three southern states. John Kerry is the senator who won everywhere else.
Far from launching Edwards, South Carolina is the state that marginalized him as merely a regional candidate. Edwards's second-place finish in Iowa was actually more impressive and important. If Dean had won in New Hampshire, or if Edwards had come in second there as well, then perhaps South Carolina might have been an important primary. Instead it will be remembered being to 2004 what New Hampshire was for the Republicans in 1996 an interesting irrelevancy.
If South Carolina were the only primary being held today and had received the frenzy of media focus that Iowa and New Hampshire get, an Edwards win today might matter. But probably not, with national polls showing that John Kerry is the choice of 49 percent of all Democrats, and the rest of the pack is back in the mid-teens.
Kerry has earned it, by the way. Give the Massachusetts senator credit for winning both Iowa and New Hampshire and putting himself in this position. These two early primaries have truly played the role of kingmaker, perhaps as never before. As pollster John Zogby said yesterday, "A Kerry blowout is likely, and it is almost entirely because of Iowa and New Hampshire."
Kerry is not the choice of the south, of southerners, of Democratic moderates or of independents. But he is going to be the nominee and South Carolina will have nothing to say about it.
There's yet another failed objective of the South Carolina primary, and that was the goal of energizing the South Carolina Democratic party. The "loyalty pledge" fiasco is just one of the self-inflicted wounds for the party. They barely raised enough money to hold the primary (much of it coming from national party sources to avoid embarrassment), and after weeks of whining about the possibility of "GOP mischief," the Democrats were forced last week to plead for Republican volunteers to help man their polls.
And so the question remains: Why did the Democrats come to South Carolina? The state party wanted their primary to achieve the kind of national status that the GOP contest has. Instead, Democratic activists are already beginning to ask whether they shouldn't find a different southern state where their candidates won't face the distracting issues of Confederate Flag boycotts and (as Wesley Clark puts it) "quoting scriptures and so forth."
My suggestion to the Democrats: Next time you want to earn your bona fides in a southern state, try South Dakota.
Radio-talk-host Michael Graham covers southern politics from his home in Virginia. He is an NRO contributor.