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Why South Carolina's primaries (almost) always get it right

2024-02-24T21:22:56.415Z

Highlights: South Carolina is known in the U.S. for its beaches, its golf courses and its recipe for boiled peanuts. Since they began to be held in 1980, strategically located among the first in the long campaign cycle that leads to the presidential elections in November, their voters have only failed once. This Saturday, South Carolina will decide whether to award conservative party delegates to compatriot Nikki Haley, who was also its governor between 2011 and 2017, or to former President Donald Trump, who aspires to return to the White House.


The State, which the polls give to Trump, is the first in the South to vote and has a long history of infallibility: whoever is elected from its polls is the Republican candidate for the White House


South Carolina is known in the United States for its beaches, its golf courses, its recipe for boiled peanuts and its infallibility when it comes to choosing candidates in the primaries, especially in the Republican ones.

Since they began to be held in 1980, strategically located among the first in the long campaign cycle that leads to the presidential elections in November, their voters have only failed once: it was when in 2012 they opted for Newt Gingrich instead of Mitt Romney. , the man who was ultimately chosen to face (and lose) then-President Barack Obama.

This Saturday, South Carolina will decide whether to award conservative party delegates to compatriot Nikki Haley, who was also its governor between 2011 and 2017, or to former President Donald Trump, who aspires to return to the White House.

Of the 14 candidates who began the race to obtain the Republican nomination, only two remain.

Along the way, all the polls say, the emotion also remained: this week's polls gave the tycoon an advantage of more than 30 points, despite which, Haley has promised that this weekend will not be the one of her retirement .

She will hold out, she has warned, until the Michigan primaries, which are held in a few days, and also until the famous Super Tuesday, when a flurry of voting coincides throughout the country (15 states decide 874 of 2,429 Republican delegates).

It is the date that she usually leaves the ballots of both parties resolved.

And everything indicates that in the great

déjà vu

of this 2024 they will have printed the repetition of the confrontation of the 2020 elections, in which Joe Biden defeated Trump.

A girl attends a Nikki Haley rally in Georgetown (South Carolina) last Thursday. BRIAN SNYDER (REUTERS)

In the language of the primaries, South Carolina has its own alias: it is the

First in the South

, the first in the South, which this time comes after the Republican appointments of the Iowa caucuses, the primaries of both parties in New Hampshire and the somewhat chaotic duplicity of Nevada primaries/caucuses.

In all of them, Trump swept easily, and at a rally he held on Friday in the north of the state, in Rock Hill, he assumed that he would do it again here, and that he deserves what traditionally usually comes after that victory: that the entire party rallied around his candidacy.

“The prestige of our primaries is due not only to their high success rate, but also to the fact that Iowa and New Hampshire have been accustomed to selecting different candidates.

We tend to play a decisive role in the tiebreaker,” explains H. Gibbs Knott, professor of political science at the University of Charleston and co-author of

First in the South: Why South Carolina Presidential Primary Matters

, in a telephone interview

. Why the South Carolina Presidential Primary Matters

).

“Now things are very different,” he admits, “these are very atypical elections.

First, because of the eccentric figure of Trump, who alters everything.

And second, because we have not even attended a debate between the two candidates.”

South Carolina, Knott notes, has a special, if different, meaning for each party.

For Republicans, their primaries are an almost perfect crystal ball that tells them about the preferences of southern voters, key places to ensure victory in the presidential elections.

For the Democrats, it is the first State to decide with a significant portion of black voters, a sector of the population that tends to be on the left: with 27.09%, it is the fifth with the highest percentage of African-American population in the Union. .

“Demographically, it's very different from Iowa, New Hampshire or even Nevada.

And that makes it much more similar to the country as a whole,” Caitlin E. Jewitt, professor at Virginia Tech University and author of an essay, says in a telephone conversation.

about the presidential primary process.

Democratic maneuvers

Jewitt recalls that this is the reason why the Democratic Party tried to maneuver to place the South Carolina event at the top of the calendar this year.

Who votes first, the expert warns, is important because of her ability to guide the dispute due to “the media attention she receives.”

Also because of the money that comes with several candidates still being at the height of their campaigns and because of the hotels, rental cars and other expenses incurred by the legion of reporters on the ground.

Barack Obama, in the presidential campaign that took him to the White House, in June 2008. Scott Olson (Getty Images)

Had Biden been victorious, New Hampshire would have lost all of that, so its local Democratic leaders fought back tooth and nail to avoid being robbed of their prominent pole

position

.

Finally, they held their primaries on January 23, but due to that dispute, Biden did not register on time and his name did not appear on the ballots.

He didn't campaign either, but he won.

Not that he showed up much either a couple of weeks later in South Carolina, where he took 96.2% of the vote in a vote with unusually low turnout.

“The Democrats, however, were late to the South Carolina party,” Knott clarifies.

In 1988, they held their first caucuses and embraced the primary system four years later.

They also usually hit the target.

Since then, they have only failed once in their predictions of who would be the party's White House contender, when in 2004 they chose John Edwards (and not John Kerry, who lost to George Bush Jr.).

Ronald Reagan, in the 1980 Iowa caucuses. Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Ronald Reagan played an essential role in the Republican passion for the polls in this southern state.

“He was elected in 1980 and his options were not clear then,” says Knott.

“The fact that he left here blessed, and that he later became a huge reference point for American conservatism and a president who served two terms, contributed to the prestige of these primaries,” adds the expert, who also remembers the case of Obama. : His victory in 2008 in South Carolina against Hillary Clinton gave rise to an unusual candidacy that ended up taking him, also for two terms, to the White House.

This year, there are fewer surprises.

It is very implausible that Haley will take Trump off the clear path that will lead him (barring a very unlikely disqualification, which is in the hands of the Supreme Court) to a new confrontation with Biden.

What is Haley looking for, then, in her efforts to hold out until Super Tuesday?

“Probably raising her national profile with the idea, perhaps, of running in 2028;

If that happens, he will already have his campaign organization created,” considers Jewitt, who includes in the equation a “question of principles,” in which “powerful donors who have not yet lost patience” seem to support him.

“I also think he wants to show that there is still a Republican Party that does not agree with the former president's manners,” he adds.

The only certainty is that in the middle of the eye of Hurricane Trump, Haley is not having an easy time getting that message across.

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Source: elparis

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