White House race shifts its resources, energy to S.C.

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

One of the most unconventional and unpredictable presidential campaigns in modern U.S. history descended Wednesday on South Carolina, gearing up to test the state’s near-perfect record for picking eventual Republican winners.

“South Carolina usually corrects the mistakes from the first two states,” joked Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican party chairman.

The most recent Palmetto State polling suggests Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the leaders within their respective parties, though positions could change in New Hampshire’s wake as the candidates who remain in the field shift energy and resources. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has pledged a big push in the state, drawing on his family’s political network there.

The South Carolina campaign represents the first test of the candidates in a diverse state and in the solidly Republican southern U.S. Compared with New Hampshire, where 91 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white, South Carolina is roughly 64 percent non-Hispanic white, 28 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.

The coastal battlefield is also a place with a religious makeup more akin to Iowa than New Hampshire, an advantage for Sen. Ted Cruz, who managed to beat Trump in Iowa by winning a third of the white, born-again Christian vote. Cruz, however, can’t count on their support in South Carolina to be as uniform as it was in Iowa, Republican strategists said.

The state’s Republicans head to the polls on Feb. 20, the same day Democrats hold their caucuses in Nevada. One week later, Democrats vote in S.C.

South Carolina is, in many ways, a microcosm of the national GOP electorate, with heavier tea party leanings. There are evangelical voters in the northwest section of the state near Bob Jones University and elsewhere, pockets of wealth around Charleston and Hilton Head, and a strong active and retired military presence in the central and southern sections.