Sunday Political Brunch: Why is South Carolina Such a Pivotal State -- November 19, 2017


FORT JACKSON, SC – We were on the road again this week to attend an Army graduation in South Carolina. I got to tour one of the nation’s largest military bases, as well as a visit to the State Capitol in Columbia. It made me reflect on how critical this state has become to presidential politics. I like to profile different states and issues while on the road. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Palmetto State’s Primary Colors” – With all the quadrennial media hub-bub about the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, the third contest often gets short-shrift. But South Carolina - usually the third contest – is often a significant turning point. For example, in 2016, a distant fourth-place finish spelled the end for the man many thought would be the frontrunner, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) Florida. And that fact that it was Donald Trump’s second straight win after a second-place showing in Iowa, meant he was a legitimate candidate to be reckoned with.

“The Race About Race” – South Carolina has been a significant turning point in several other Presidential elections, too. In 2008 Sen. Barack Obama (D) Illinois won in the Palmetto State primary with 55 percent of the vote. In doing so, he defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) New York - the spouse of former President Bill Clinton - a Southerner. And Obama also defeated neighboring Sen. John Edwards, (D) North Carolina. In a state and region that had seen plenty of racial strife, it was a big turning point in the campaign when a black candidate won. Iowa and New Hampshire were interesting, but South Carolina was the first time in covering any campaign that I said an African-American had a very good chance at winning the White House.

“The Future” – As I have said several times in this column in the past year, we are still be on the verge of electing our first woman president. On my drive through South Carolina, I heard network radio reports from the United Nations, where U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was chastising the Russian government in a U.N. speech. She’s created a lot of headlines being one of the point-persons in the ongoing nuclear tensions with North Korea, and has been speaking forcefully against its dictator Kim Jong-un. Former Gov. Nikki Haley (R) South Carolina – like President Obama – has shown the Palmetto State is willing to choose diverse leadership. She remains on my short list of potential future Presidents.

“Strom Thurmond” – One of the longest roads through Fort Jackson is Strom Thurmond Boulevard. It is named after long-time Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) South Carolina, who served 48-years in the U.S. Senate, and died in office at the age of 100. Yes, Thurmond was a controversial figure over the years, especially on issues of race relations, but he evolved and changed his views over his long career. I got to know him quite well as a reporter covering Carolina issues at the U.S. Capitol in the 1990s. I laughed because he always called me, “Sonny!” He was a master at constituent service, and “bringing home the bacon” to his state, not the least of which is the huge military infrastructure that remains intact. He was a significant, and fascinating political figure, regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about him.

“Yesterday and Today” – For all the racial tension and division that has characterized South Carolina politics for decades, things have decidedly changed. In 2010 the state elected an Indian-America female named Nikki Haley, to the Governor’s Mansion. In 2013 when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) resigned his seat, Haley appointed Rep. Tom Scott (R-SC), to the vacant U.S. Senate seat. Scott is African-American. He then won a special election for the remainder of the Senate term in 2014, and won a full, six-year Senate term in 2016. In both 2014 and 2016, Scott faced an African-American opponent from the Democratic party. In U.S. history there have been only three Senate races where both major party candidates were black. The bottom line, if you don’t think South Carolina – and the nation have changed -- just look at what’s happened here politically since 2008.

“Victory Starts Here; Right Here!” – I’ve attended countless military events in forty years as a reporter. Though I never served, I have a deep, abiding respect for the service of others including my dad, uncle, grandfather, father-in-law, and countless friends. But this event was special. We watched our daughter, SPC. Alexandra Curtis graduate from BCT (Basic Combat Training), commonly known as boot camp. It was an emotional two days, with lots of smiles and tears. The graduating class included 1,125 brave warriors, ranging in age from 17 to 38, from all walks of life. I have never been so proud as a dad – and as an American – to witness the collective talent that walked on Hilton Field. The United States in in good hands. The post’s motto is: “Forty Rounds; No Ground to Give; Victory Starts Here; Right Here!” Amen!

Is there a special military person, past, or present, you’d like to salute this Thanksgiving week? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and the bordering states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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