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Dissecting South
Carolina Politics

Dissecting South
Carolina Politics


South Carolina will be the first Southern state to weigh in on decision 2008. Blogging from Charleston to Myrtle Beach on her way to the Democratic debate next Monday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kerry Eleveld will explore the relationship between the LGBT and African-American communities, the Donnie McClurkin effect, and the momentum of the Democratic campaigns.

In order to get our bearings in South Carolina, Dr. Scott Huffmon, a professor who specializes in Southern politics at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, gives us a quick look at the demographics of South Carolina.

African-Americans make up about 30% of the entire population of South Carolina, but, as has been widely reported, they will account for about 50% of the Democratic primary voters. Huffmon sees these numbers alone as reason enough to keep the Palmetto State at the front of the pack in terms primaries.

"One of the reasons why South Carolina is important for Democrats as an early primary state is, it's the first real test of a sizable African-American population," he notes. "And we're important for the Republicans because it's the first real test of traditional conservative Republicans and Christian evangelicals."

Perhaps more interesting in terms of demographics, black women reign supreme here. Huffmon says they make up anywhere from 30% to 33% of voters in the Democratic primary, whereas black men account for between 17% and 20%.

Winthrop conducted one of the largest polls of African-Americans in South Carolina in August and September of last year.

"A few months ago, the largest bloc of still undecided voters were African-American females, and they became the real battleground," Huffmon says.

That's around the time that Obama started his beauty shop campaign, visiting popular grooming spots around the state. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign deployed Bill. "When we asked people, 'Why do you support Hillary Clinton?' The number 1 answer for many women among African-Americans was Bill Clinton," says Huffmon.

As for white Democrats last fall, he adds, "Hillary was number 1 by a long stretch. Edwards was number 2 back then, and Obama was number 3."

Today, Huffmon thinks the number of black 'undecideds' has decidedly shrunk, likely in Obama's favor. "By last September, he had taken the lead among African-Americans," he says, adding that Clinton was second, and Edwards had only about 3% support among black voters. "There's a good bet that the vast majority of folks here in South Carolina have made up their minds and tend to be less like New Hampshire voters where three days out, they're still undecided -- we're not New Hampshire," he says.

If you're wondering why we're harkening back to a poll from last fall, Huffmon says it was one of the only polls, if not the only poll, to use a statistical sample large enough of both blacks and whites to be broken down by race.

The polls that are coming out now may yield a percentage of voters who are still in a state of quandary, but they are not reliable predictors of who exactly those voters are. "So you can look at the 'undecideds,' but you would not be able to tell undecideds by race because there would not be enough of a sample size to do that," says Huffmon.

When it comes to indicators for how African-Americans are leaning, Huffmon is looking toward the MLK day rallies this coming Sunday and Monday. A big rally to honor Martin Luther King Jr. will be held at the state's capitol dome in Columbia on Monday afternoon. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are all scheduled to appear there before marching to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they will participate in the CNN/Congressional Black Caucus debate -- also being cosponsored by the gay rights organization the National Black Justice Coalition.

But Huffmon isn't looking to the highly publicized "Rally at the Dome" for intel on black voters. "It's not the rally that we need to pay attention to, it's the tiny little gatherings among smaller groups of less than 100 or so of African-Americans around the state," he says. It's at those gatherings where African-Americans might rehash Senator Clinton's recent comments about it taking President Lyndon Johnson to pass legislation in order to make Dr. King's dream a reality -- which some blacks saw as diminishing the role that King played in the civil rights movement.

"They're going to talk about that -- it's going to kind of go underground. It's maybe not going to be talked about on Meet The Press, but it's going to be talked about at prayer breakfasts honoring Dr. King around the state of South Carolina, and that can only be bad for Hillary Clinton," says Huffmon. "If that happens, that's what I'm going to be looking for."

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