Saturday, February 27, 2016

Palmetto Principles Part II

"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."

Madeleine Albright

I don't know if they have early voting in South Carolina. If they do, then some of the state's Democrats have undoubtedly voted by now. If not, then they will be showing up at the polls today.

By nightfall, we should know whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders won — and, if the polls are accurate, Clinton is likely to win by a wide margin.

And, as I observed last week ahead of the Republican primary, that will be important — because of what it has meant in recent history.

It was important, of course, who won the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. But those states have had poor records in recent presidential election years. Seldom has the eventual nominee won in those states. Not so in South Carolina. Since 1980, Mitt Romney has been the only Republican nominee who did not win the South Carolina primary.

Democrats have only been holding primaries in South Carolina since 1992, but in those six previous primaries, John Kerry was his party's only eventual nominee who did not win the South Carolina primary. Like Romney, Kerry lost to a Southerner — John Edwards from neighboring North Carolina (Romney lost to Newt Gingrich from Georgia on the state's southern border).

Interestingly, both Romney and Kerry held political office in Massachusetts. In fact, they were in office at the same time. Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and Kerry represented the state in the Senate alongside Ted Kennedy.

The important point, though, is the state's success rate in picking nominees.

Virginia is known as the "Birthplace of Presidents" because eight of the 43 men who have been president were born within that state's boundaries — including four of the first five, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

Perhaps South Carolina should be known as the "Birthplace of Presidencies." Every president since 1980 has won his party's primary in that state.

That should be good news for whoever wins there tonight — and, as I say, the polls indicate that it will be Clinton by a wide margin.

The Emerson Poll released a survey yesterday that showed Clinton with 60% and Sanders with 37%. The poll credited black voters for giving Clinton such a comfortable lead. Black voters account for more than half of the state's Democrats, and the Emerson Poll reported that more than seven of 10 black voters support Clinton.

No one ever disputed that the black vote would be critical for winning in South Carolina's Democratic primary, but their support won't be enough to win South Carolina in November. South Carolina's overall black population accounts for less than 28% of the state's entire population.

Of course, Sanders can't rely on young voters as he has in other places — and up to this point, he has one decisive win and two narrow defeats in this election season. Young voters (ages 18 to 34) account for 23% of the population in South Carolina, and the other age demographic that has been reasonably receptive to Sanders' message has been voters between the ages of 35 and 64 — the state's largest age group (39%).

Their support hasn't been as lopsided as it has been with younger voters — but it has been more dependable at the polls.

The most dependable age demographic, though, is voters 65 and older. Only 15% of the state's residents are in that category — but older voters are more likely to vote than any other group, and they have been supporting Clinton.

The Clemson University Palmetto Poll reports Clinton with 64% and Sanders with 14%, running behind undecided at 22%.

It doesn't seem like much has changed since last week, when the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll showed Clinton with 60% and Sanders with 32%.

Of course, polls aren't the same thing as actual votes — a point I have made repeatedly on this blog. So let's wait and see what happens tonight.

Everyone expects a big victory for Clinton — and, frankly, so do I. But nothing is official until they count the votes.

I haven't seen any polls of South Carolina's Democratic women. I suspect that many of the younger women, like their peers in those other states, are supporting Sanders, but their numbers probably won't be as great as their mothers' generation — or their grandmothers' — and the older women are the ones who are likely, it seems to me, to be supporting Clinton.

It will be interesting to see what the exit polls reveal about the women's vote.

I must say that I am perplexed by the rush to anoint nominees after only four states have cast their votes — and none of those states are likely to make a difference in the general election unless it is an extremely tight race. If it is as close as Bush–Gore was in 2000, then any one of the four could make a difference.

But photo finishes like that don't come along very often. In a country where more than 100 million people are likely to vote in November, more often than not the outcome is more decisive than that. In my lifetime, I have witnessed more landslides than cliffhangers.

Most of the states that will be big prizes in the fall vote late in the primary season — when nominees typically are unofficially their parties' standard bearers. Notice I said "big prizes," but I didn't say they would be up for grabs. Many of the big states are going to vote for one party or the other, no matter who the nominee is. I live in Texas, where no Democratic nominee has won since Jimmy Carter in 1976. In fact, few have come close.

Unless you're 30 or older, you probably have no memory of a time when California was not reliably Democratic. It last voted Republican in 1988. In fact, until Bill Clinton was elected president, California had only voted for Democrats twice since the end of World War II. California has now voted for Democrats six straight times — and probably will make it seven this fall.

Texas will vote in next Tuesday's "Super Tuesday" primary, but California, as usual, will vote late in the process — when the nomination has already been secured by someone.

Most big states won't have much of a say in the nominating process — and that strikes me as foolish. Shouldn't both parties want to sound out the voters in the big states before the nominees are chosen? Wouldn't it help their cause in the general election? California alone offers one–fifth of the electoral votes a candidate needs to win the election.

Well, the general election is still a little more than eight months away, and the name of the game is perception. After four small states have voted, we're all ready to crown the champs. I guess we will find out how the big states feel in November.

Of course, if Sanders somehow manages to stay close, that could have a ripple effect in next week's primaries. And all bets would be off.

We should know by tonight.

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