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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 www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

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

Sunday Political Brunch - The Perils of Party Infighting -- November 12, 2017


CHARLESTON, WV -- Two new political books are shedding light on something a lot of people don’t like to admit – party infighting is one of the worst maladies in politics. It reminds me of that adage that the worst wounds in politics are often self-inflicted. That is true at the personal and the party level. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Donna Brazile” – The longtime Democratic political operative and network commentator sent shock waves through the political community with some of her claims in a new book. Brazile - who was Acting Chair of the Democratic National Committee last year - said she considered a procedure to remove Hillary Clinton as the party nominee, after Secretary Clinton had a health scare at a September 11th memorial event that was caught on camera. Brazile thought of trying to replace the Clinton-Kaine ticket with Vice President Joe Biden paired with Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ). Brazile – who found the Clinton campaign complacent and lackluster – never made the move. But the fact that someone of her stature had such thoughts, reflects an alarming level of doubt within the party that many like me heard via whispers from party faithful in the shadows.

“Bush Bash” – It’s no secret the Bush Family has no love for President Trump. He treated fellow candidate Jeb Bush with great disdain and disrespect, during the campaign, and key members of the Bush family openly voted for Hillary Clinton. Former President George H.W. Bush, had this to say about Trump in “The New York Times”: “I don’t know much about him, but I know he’s a blowhard. And I’m not too excited about him being a leader.” The senior Bush added bluntly, “I don’t like him [Trump].” Bush even leaked his intention to vote for Secretary Clinton, by telling former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D-MD), daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY). Bush went dynasty-to-dynasty to whack Trump publicly via the Kennedys.

“Son of Bush Bash II’ – Just as he followed his father’s footsteps, and eventually won the White House, former President George W. Bush has also hit President Trump with faint praise. "This guy doesn't know what it means to be president," said Bush “43” to “The New York Times.” He added that he did not cast a vote for President in 2016. He left that portion of the ballot blank.

“The Clinton-Gore Fallout” – “The New York Times” reported extensively about the growing distance between President Clinton and Vice President Gore during the 2000 campaign of Al Gore, to succeed his boss. The two men, who had forged such a successful political bond when they won in 1992, had grown apart. Gore wanted to distance himself from Clinton, and it may have been a mistake. “The Times” reported that Gore did not want Clinton to campaign for him. “This is something Gore is going to do on his own,” said his campaign press secretary Chris Lahane. Many believed Clinton could have helped Gore in African-American communities in Arkansas and Tennessee. Instead he sat on the bench, and George W. Bush won both states. Had Gore taken just one of his and Clinton’s home states, he would have been President.

“Virginia-New Jersey Fallout?” – Democrats won both races for Governor Tuesday night. New Jersey was no surprise as Governor-elect Phil Murphy swamped current Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R-NJ) by 14 percentage points. Virginia chose Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over longtime Republican political operative Ed Gillespie by nine points. Late polls had the race closer, but Gillespie was still in an uphill battle. Now, if I hear one more network reporter say this was a clear referendum on the Trump administration, I will scream. It is not. Two states simply do not make enough of a scientific sample to make a predictive trend for 2018. That’s not an opinion, folks, it’s a fact based on social scientific principles. Both elections were a reflection of the political mood in two states – one a solidly blue state (New Jersey); and one a “purple” swing state that can go either way (Virginia). How does that predict what might happen in Ohio or Idaho in 2018? It doesn’t.

“The ‘Check Engine’ Light is On!” – On the other hand, Republicans ought to take notice of what happened in the Virginia House of Delegates where Republicans had a 66 to 34 majority when Election Day began. By the end of the night, the GOP had lost 15 seats, and with three going to recounts, it is possible Democrats could swing control of one chamber of the State House. Now that is a trend worth noting. Was this because of strictly local or state issues, or were people venting against the President Trump? As I always say, political movements are built from the ground up (grass roots) and not from the top down. That’s how Republicans came to power in both chambers of Congress, and a majority of state legislatures and Governor’s mansions. This was the big (and largely unnoticed news) from Tuesday’s election results.

“The Big Concern” – Intraparty fights are amusing to the press and public, but a lot of times we don’t know about them until after the fact. That’s because it’s often hard to get people to tell us about the inside battles in real time. But they can have political costs. Every time in my life when an incumbent President has been challenged for re-nomination from within his own party, he has lost the election. This was true for Presidents Johnson, Ford, Carter and H.W. Bush. I mention this because I believe President Trump is going to face credible, perhaps multiple challengers from within the Republican party in 2020. Right now his big concern is not Democrats, but rather fellow Republicans.

Who might you support for President in 2020? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author based in West Virginia. His coverage can be seen in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C., from the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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