THE ISSUE: Can Obama win S.C.?

OUR VIEW: Democrats pumping president’s chances here, but state likely to remain in “red” column

President Barack Obama is going to win in South Carolina in the 2012 presidential race against Republican Mitt Romney: That’s the political forecast as put forth by S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a man with a history of bold predictions.

This one, based on history, is particularly bold. No Democratic presidential candidate has won in South Carolina since Georgian Jimmy Carter in 1976. Obama’s 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, won South Carolina’s electoral votes with 54 percent of the ballots cast, despite record high turnout among African-Americans and young people for the Democrat. Orangeburg County was indicative of the enthusiasm for Obama, with 71 percent of registered voters in the majority-black county casting ballots. Obama got 68 percent of the vote compared to 30 percent for McCain.

The Democratic incumbent knows well that energizing African-Americans and young people around the country will be a key if he is to be re-elected, much less surprise the electoral world with a win a solidly “red” state such as South Carolina.

Harpootlian was doing more than blowing political smoke in his comments about the race, however.

He was making note of the words of none other than GOP strategist Karl Rove in his April 2 “Polling News & Notes.”

“In the first Karl Rove & Co. 2012 Electoral College map, there are 18 states (220 Electoral College votes) where Obama has a solid lead and 15 states (93 EC votes) polling solidly for Romney, according to the latest polling average in each state. There are six states with a combined 82 EC votes classified as ‘toss-ups’ (IA, FL:, MO, NC, SC, VA); five states (MI, NH, NV, OH, PA) with a combined 64 EC votes that ‘lean’ Obama; and six states (AZ, GA, KY, SD, TN, TX) with a combined 79 EC votes that ‘lean’ Romney. In other words, there are 17 states and a total of 225 Electoral College votes up for grabs.”

That South Carolina is among “toss-ups” is surprising. According to Rove, by the numbers, it means the lead by either candidate is not greater than 3 percent.

If South Carolina is indeed in play in 2012, it is not because of new waves of support for the president. It is lack of conservative enthusiasm for the Republican and former Massachusetts governor, Romney. Georgian Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina GOP primary earlier this year in a race that conservatives had hoped would put the skids on Romney. It did not.

That leaves South Carolina Republicans, in general, wanting for a candidate.

Conservative Beaufort County Sen. and tea party favorite Sen. Tom Davis told The State of Columbia: “If he (Romney) frames the debate between President Obama’s agenda of an ever-growing and more powerful government vs. faith in the free markets and individual liberty, I think he’s got a good chance of winning. If he doesn’t draw the line that sharply and tries to move toward the center, then I think it will be very difficult.”

Wow. “Very difficult” for a Republican to win the presidential race in South Carolina? No wonder Harpootlian is talking.

Still, the latest Winthrop Poll from Winthrop University finds that nearly 60 percent of South Carolinians believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction. A third say the direction is the right one. That’s not a ringing endorsement of the nation’s leadership, and history would indicate that people here are more likely to blame the Democrats than Republicans.

The poll shows more than a quarter of South Carolinians still see “economic crisis” as the overriding issue of national importance. More than a third rate the condition of the national economy as fairly bad. But just about as many say “fairly good,” and 54 percent see things as getting better, not worse.

South Carolina Democrats, including African-Americans in large numbers, will turn out for Obama in November. Of that, we are confident. What will Republicans do? How many hard-working conservatives are as turned off by Romney’s rich-get-richer legacy as they are by Obama’s billions in bailouts on top of his touts about helping the little man and the middle class at the expense of the rich?

The election is six months away. Time will tell whether South Carolina truly enters the national “in play” electoral picture. Despite what Harpootlian says, for now, it’s a safe bet Romney will win the state even if Republicans and independents are not excited about his candidacy.


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