Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2003 / 2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
The Dems primary problem
"The best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley," the poet Burns observed. And while I hate to be the one to gang anyone's agley aft or otherwise I'm afraid I've got some bad news for the Democratic Party:
This whole South Carolina primary thing, it's just not working out.
The Democrats' idea, and it's not an unreasonable one, is to use my home state of South Carolina's primary on February 3rd to reign in the excesses of the left-leaning voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. The primary voters of these two states, you will recall, gave the Democratic Party that star-studded line-up of McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis (combined Electoral College score: 12), and tried to foist the party with Gary Hart and Tom Harkin for good measure.
The Democrat's most successful presidential nominee since FDR, Bill Clinton, never won either state. But he did win in the South. And so, the thinking goes, the next nominee won't be able to win anymore by just pandering to the pitchfork socialists of Iowa and the PBS liberals of New Hampshire. No, he'll have to also reach out to Democrats from a moderate, mainstream state like South Carolina.
This is the point where I think the "gang aft agley" part kicks in. Relying on South Carolinians for moderation and mainstreaming is like counting on frat boys to help reduce underage drinking.
Which might explain the results of a recent poll of Democratic primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina sponsored by Democracy Corps, a Democratic political action group. The results are great for Howard Dean, but lousy for the Democratic Party.
As investigative journalist (and, to be fair, conservative writer) Byron York points out, these early primary voters appear to be completely out of touch with the American mainstream on the defining issue of the moment, the war on terror. They just don't get it.
For example, these voters were given a list of issues education, taxes, moral values, the environment and the like and asked "Which concern worries you the most?" On that list were "fighting terrorism" and "homeland security."
Now, among Americans as a whole, terrorism is consistently named one of the two most important problems facing our country, along with the economy. If the economy continues to rebound, security is likely to become comparatively even more important.
But how high do terrorism and homeland security rate among Democratic primary voters in Iowa? A whopping 1 percent listed it as their number one concern. As York notes: "It came in dead last."
In New Hampshire? Hey, it doubled to 2 percent! But most disconcerting is the fact that in South Carolina home to Ft. Jackson and Parris Island national security also garnered just 2 percent of the vote.
To their credit, when asked to identify their ideal candidate, Democratic voters emphasized foreign policy expertise and did not demand a candidate with a "Troops Home Now!" platform. However, when asked how important it was for the candidate to have "opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning," 68 percent of Iowa Democrats said it was very or somewhat important. So did 59 percent of primary voters in New Hampshire.
And in South Carolina? That number jumps to 74 percent! Dennis Kucinich says "Go Gamecocks!"
In fact, on many questions, South Carolina Democratic primary voters trended even with or to the left of their supposedly more liberal counterparts. Why?
Because in South Carolina, we have a word for moderate Democrats: They're called "Republicans."
Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, where Democrats are competitive statewide, there is no reason for a moderate pol in South Carolina to stay a Democrat. What so you can sit in the minority in the legislature or get your fanny waxed running statewide?
The same is true of Democratic voters. South Carolina Democrats haven't even supported their party's presidential candidate since Reagan why would they come out for a primary? That's why typical statewide Democratic primary election has just 100,000 or so voters, compared to the 300,000+ who regularly show up to pick the GOP nominee for Attorney General or Commissioner of Agriculture.
Not only are these primary Democrats small in number, but they also present a slanted sample of Southern Democrats. South Carolina's primaries have been largely abandoned to the Greens, government employees and the Grateful Dead crowd. Add these Starbucks liberals to the 40% of Democratic primary voters who are black, and you've got the perfect primary for every Democrat left of Martin Sheen.
Which may be why "Favorite Son" John Edwards, the breakout moderate of the presidential pack, has the support of just 14% of South Carolina Democratic primary voters, with the other candidates hovering at or above double digits.
If the South Carolina primary becomes an ideological struggle between those two standard bearers of mainstream America, Howard Dean and Al Sharpton, it's going to be an electoral disaster for their party.
And gangs of fun to watch.
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