HAT TIP: By Lee Bandy, The State
Barack Obama showed a whole lot of savvy and political courage when he took his Democratic presidential campaign into the Republican heartland of South Carolina.
It was a huge success.
Democrats were ecstatic.
“We have complained bitterly over the years about the treatment we’ve received at the hands of the Democrats,” said Ron Romine, a Spartanburg party activist and long-time political science professor at the University of South Carolina. “Finally, we’re getting some attention.”
Barack, a U.S. senator from Illinois, drew large crowds at stops in Greenwood, Greenville and Spartanburg — a region heavily populated by Republicans.
Upstate voters haven’t seen a Democratic presidential candidate in years. The last time they voted for a Democrat was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran for president.
A Republican has won the congressional seat in the Greenville-Spartanburg area with at least 65 percent of the votes in five of the past seven elections.
But Obama’s campaign looked at the sheer numbers in the Upstate and decided it would be foolhardy to ignore the vote-rich region, even though it was clearly dominated by Republicans.
Obama made his first visit to the Upstate on June 15. And boy was he surprised when he arrived at McAlister Square in Greenville. Over 3,500 people — a good mix of blacks and whites — were there to greet him.
State Sen. Ralph Anderson, a black legislator from Greenville, said the Obama folks could have doubled the turnout if they had started organizing earlier.
Not lost on the Obama campaign is the fact that the S.C. primary is open, meaning any registered voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — can vote in the Democratic primary on Jan. 29.
Obama’s June 15 foray into the Upstate was hailed by political observers as gutsy and smart.
In the past, Democratic candidates have stayed away from the Upstate, conceding it to the Republicans.
“A mistake,” said Furman University professor Danielle Vinson. “You can’t ignore any group of voters. In the Upstate, we do have Democrats. Not many. But we do have a very vocal group of African-Americans. A candidate ignores them at his own peril.”
Also, an interesting phenomenon has arisen over the last few months. A growing number of moderate Republicans and independents, increasingly upset with President Bush, say they want to vote for Obama.
They particularly are drawn to his message about ridding Washington of partisan politics. They’re tired of the in-fighting, the back-stabbing.
They also find something appealing about the man. He’s new. He’s authentic.
A recent Mason-Dixon poll of South Carolina voters showed Obama favored over U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York in the S.C. primary.
Furman University analyst Don Aiesi said that finding should boost Obama’s standing and give him added strength heading into the 2008 primary.
Aiesi said it would be a mistake for Obama to ignore the Upstate support. “He has the potential to fire people up.
“Hillary is not liked,” Aiesi said, citing polls to support his charge.
He predicts that if Obama plays his cards right, he easily will dispose of the U.S. senator from New York.
“He has got 50 percent of the primary vote nailed down,” Aiesi said of Obama. “To me it’s over and done.”
Thanks to Obama, Southern Democrats finally have someone who doesn’t treat or see them as a lost cause.