A day in the life of the South Carolina primary

Huntsman speaks to students at USC.

Yesterday I was so busy running from one candidate event to another that I didn’t have time to write about any of them. I left the last one while Rick Santorum was still talking, and grabbed a late dinner and packed and hit the sack for about five hours sleep.

So here are some brief notes from what I saw out there on Wednesday:

Rick Perry — The event was set for 1:10 p.m. at Doc’s Barbecue — Kirkman Finlay‘s place. Or one of them, anyway. Kirkman was there, as was Sunny Phillips, the ex-blogger (y’all remember the Crunchy Republican? she’s thinking about starting it back up!) who is working for the campaign. So were plenty of media, as mentioned back here.

Perry arrived reasonably close to the scheduled time, then went around and shook some hands among the sparse, late-lunch crowd. Then he went into the back room, which was packed. But it was a tiny room. There were maybe, maybe 30 people in there who were not press. Tops.

He  pretty much gave his standard God and Country speech, and it was well-received. But as I said, not many there to receive it. Later in the day, an operative with a competing campaign would claim to me that our own Katon Dawson called Perry in Texas after Iowa and talked him into staying in through South Carolina. Next time I see Katon, I’ll ask him about that. I’ll bet Perry’s wondering about that advice.

Jon Huntsman — He also spoke to a full room, but it was a much bigger one, on the top floor of the Moore School at USC. I’m guessing about 300. Of course, it was mostly students, and who knows how many were assigned to be there? Still, they seemed less bored than such groups often look to be.

The room was stifling, it was so packed. Hard to get in or out. Cindi Scoppe actually got out of the office to attend, and had to stand in the doorway. There were USC faculty and staff types there whom I recognized, but mostly a young crowd. When I arrived, Henry McMaster said he was glad to see somebody else there with gray hair. Thanks, Henry. I guess he couldn’t see Richard Quinn, who was out in the hall. Richard was griping about the play Huntsman’s strong New Hampshire finish had gotten. He and others with the campaign told me about how  they had been surging ever since the Sunday morning debate, and the NH result showed it, but analysts were saying Huntsman hadn’t done as well as expected.

For his part, Huntsman talked less about the red-meat stuff he’d been talking about in recent days (term limits, etc.) and concentrated more on wonkish stuff, perhaps because of his academic audience. He talked about congratulating ourselves on what we’ve accomplished in Afghanistan (kicking out the Taliban and al Qaeda, encouraging civil institutions and the like), and getting out. And he talked about the economy, saying banks that are too big to fail are too big — and that government policies encouraged them to be. (OK, that last bit was kind of populist, but he said it in a respectably wonkish way).

He was well, but politely, received. Perry’s tiny assemblage was more into the stuff he was saying.

Mitt Romney — This gathering, which was at The Hall at Senate’s End (former site of Sterling Garden Center), was completely unlike any other I saw on Wednesday. Of course, it was after work, but that doesn’t explain the crowd that I can’t begin to estimate (I couldn’t get to a vantage point to see it all), but I’ll just call it 1,000 people.

This wasn’t a typical, come-out-and-hear-what-this-guy-has-to-say gathering. This was a victory party, and every Republican who wanted to be on the winning team (and that’s a big crowd) was there. Nikki Haley, Curtis Loftis, Ralph Norman, Chip Huggins and all sorts of elected folks, and a lot of people were there to cheer for the presumptive nominee.

The program started late, and a miracle happened: Nikki Haley acknowledged Curtis Loftis — who, after all, was supporting Romney before she was. But she didn’t share the limelight. She and Romney were the only ones I could see — they were on some sort of platform — from where I stood. Unfortunately I got no good pictures, as both my camera and iPhone set exposures automatically, and exposed for the crowd, not for Nikki and Romney, who were over-illuminated by TV lights.

Yep, Nikki basked in that light. And basked, and basked, and basked. I didn’t think she was ever going to let Romney speak, and I wasn’t the only one thinking that. Someone behind me uttered a grunt of irritable satisfaction when she finally started to wrap it up.

Romney, of course, just did what he’s been doing in recent days, talking about that awful Obama fella, who has singlehandedly ruined the economy and given the country’s security away to foreigners. And the crowd ate it up, occasionally making roaring sounds. Like a pep rally.

I had to leave while he was still talking to make it to any of the next event.

Rick Santorum — Things were quieter at the next event. It was a good crowd — bigger than Perry’s; smaller than Huntsman’s. It filled the building out back of the Springdale House on Platt Springs Road. But this was a sit-down-and-listen crowd, very polite and attentive. A number of parents had brought babies and small children. The seats were filled, and the standing room pretty packed as well, with some spilling outside. On the veranda, among others, were Hogan “Chuckles” Gidley and Ted Koppel. Later, I saw Koppel posing for a picture with a fan. (For some reason, a nice lady was also impressed that I was there and wanted to take my picture. I know know why. Maybe she thought I was there as a supporter.) Rusty was there, of course. Rusty was wearing a sweater vest; the candidate was not.

This was a crowd less interested in being on the bandwagon than in hearing the answers they wanted to hear. And in an understated fashion, Santorum provided them. I arrived in the middle of his opening remarks (I would have missed them entirely if I had waited for Romney to finish).

Wrapping up, Santorum did this really effective thing that I’ve never seen before, at least not done this well. Instead of building to a big, rah-rah finish (which Perry had done, for instance), Santorum said something about not really wanting to run for president, having better things to do as a family man, and then said, very quietly, “… but it’s my duty.” The crowd didn’t roar, but you got the sense that they loved him for it.

He talked about three reasons Romney would be weak in a general election: He can’t hit Obama on health care because of Romney care; he’s vulnerable as a Wall Streeter, and he has no more foreign policy experience than Obama himself had.

One woman got up and said she wanted to know his positions on three things: abortion, the family, and Israel. The juxtaposition, the way she said it, caused laughter in the room, even from Santorum. But he politely presented his bona fides on those scores.

In spite of what Ron Paul may say about him, Santorum is pretty hard core on federal spending. He not only wants a balanced budget amendment, but he wants the Constitution to limit the budget to 18 percent of the economy.

I had to leave before he was done, to go pack.

20 thoughts on “A day in the life of the South Carolina primary

  1. Kevin

    Brad what is your impressions of the Perry campaign’s SC operation and are they really competing in this primary? Are David Wilkins and Katon Dawson and Bobby Harrell actually trying to get Perry a respectable showing or what?

  2. Brad

    Quinn’s with Huntsman. I was talking to him at the Huntsman event.

    R. Buckminster Fuller! I seem to be a verb! Haven’t heard that name in awhile.

    And Steppenwolf — well, who can compete with that?…

  3. `Kathryn Fenner

    So political operatives don’t check out one another’s events, I guess. I got confused about what he was griping about….Damning with faint praise, I suppose.

  4. Brad

    Basically, Richard was saying that he wished the pundits and commentators had say, “Wow, Huntsman really did great in New Hampshire.”

    Instead, they were saying, “Huntsman put everything he had into New Hampshire, and came in third. Not so great.”

    And Richard, as a Huntsman guy, was disappointed by that.

  5. bud

    Later in the day, an operative with a competing campaign would claim to me that our own Katon Dawson called Perry in Texas after Iowa and talked him into staying in through South Carolina.

    IF that’s true then this whole speel about “fiscal conservatism” as enunciated ad-nasuem by by conservatives like Katon Dawson is nothing but a shame. To suggest someone continue in a hopeless campaign, spending prodigious amounts of money goes beyond the pale. And to think these guys actually believe they are the ones who respect the value of a dollar and will do the best by taxpayer. Disgusting.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    If that is the kind of crowd that Perry is drawing, he’ll end up back in Texas with his tail between his legs.

  7. Bryan Caskey


    “This gathering, which was at The Hall at Senate’s End (former site of Sterling Garden Center)…”

    It’s a watermark of Southern culture to describe a location by what the location USED to be. Well played.

  8. Sims

    Haley’s hatred for Loftis reflects her low character. Loftis, on the Mitt Team, has been a real gentleman. He has done the spade work while she basked in the media lights. Difference is most people in Tea Party, like me, respect Loftis for his choice and resent her for her choice. Loftis made a heartfelt choice while the other was just another rung up the ego ladder for Haley.

  9. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Bryan–true, but there are some renamings that are so much worse than what they replaced–Midtown at Forest Acres (thankfully returned to Richland Mall, but probably too late to save it), Columbia Place–does anyone call Columbia Mall that?, Capital Center–or whatever the AT&T/Affinity/etc. building that has the Cap City Club in it is now called, whatever the Wilbur Smith building is now called, etc.

Comments are closed.