Sorry, but there’s NO WAY Matt Santos won South Carolina

The Santos-Vinick debate.

The Santos-Vinick debate.

This morning while working out, I saw episode 16 of the seventh and last season of “The West Wing,” the one titled, “Election Day Part I.

It’s the one that ended with Leo (my favorite character!) being found in his hotel room. Dead, I’m guessing (this was originally aired several episodes after John Spencer’s actual death). The episode ended with people rushing into the room after Annabeth finds him and calls for help.

So I’m braced for an emotionally wrenching Part II.

Only six episodes left…

But before we move on, I must offer my one criticism of this episode: As someone who has been closely covering SC politics for 27 years, I can tell you that it is utterly incredible that Santos would have won South Carolina.

Nothing happened in this fictional campaign that could possibly have overcome the state’s strong preference for the GOP.

Sure it’s conceivable that one of these days, a Democratic presidential nominee could win this state again. But it would take extraordinary circumstances. It most certainly would not be this candidate, who ran on a platform of public education and healthcare reform.

Speaking for myself and possibly other South Carolina swing voters, I found his obsession with public education — something that is not a legitimate concern of the federal government — quite off-putting. Santos projected himself as a liberal’s liberal. Not someone who is likely to make this red state change its mind.

I’m not sure I would have (as Kate Harper apparently did) voted for Arnie Vinick, but I found him a fairly appealing candidate. I would need to know more about both candidates and their platforms than I got from the show. But I know that Santos, as sympathetically as he was portrayed, still did not gain a lock on my support.

The two explanations offered in passing, over the last few episodes, for South Carolina’s move into the Santos column were:

  1. The nuclear plant accident in California. A couple of episodes back, it is noted that states with nuclear plants were starting to go for Santos, because of his complete opposition to nuclear power (and because Vinick had pushed to get the plant where the accident occurred up and running 25 years earlier). I don’t think SC would abandon its acceptance of nuclear power that easily. I know that I saw nothing in the San Andreo accident to make me decide nuclear power qua nuclear power was unsafe. Then again, maybe I’m not typical.
  2. A greater-than-expected turnout of black voters in SC. This is implied by the fact that halfway through Election Day, as exit poll numbers come in, Stephen Root’s character (a member of the Vinick campaign team) dismisses the SC numbers because the exit poll has “oversampled” black voters. He draws that conclusion because the proportion of black respondents is higher than the proportion of registered voters who are black. What he is apparently missing is that black voters did indeed turn out in higher-than-expected numbers. I have seen nothing to indicate that that would be likely. In fact, an earlier episode showed Santos having a problem with black voters elsewhere in the country, and there’s no explanation of why SC would buck that trend.

Yeah, I know. It’s make-believe. I’m overthinking it.

But I’m just trying to squeeze as much as I can from these last few episodes. So little time left…


9 thoughts on “Sorry, but there’s NO WAY Matt Santos won South Carolina

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    This morning, in “Election Day Part II,” it was mentioned (by the opposition) that Santos had spent so much time in SC, he could have been living here.

    Well, that certainly would have been a departure from what we’re used to seeing — a Democratic presidential nominee actually visiting South Carolina.

    But I don’t think it would make the difference.

    I’m with Josh Lyman, who understood that there was something wrong if his guy was losing Vermont, but winning SC.

    Look at the map above (I just added it to this post). The Democrat lost California, but won SC? Mind you, there were extraordinary reasons for this. First, it was Vinick’s home state. Second, Leo’s death was announced with another hour of voting to go in California. OK, fine — but if West Coast voters were balking at backing Santos because of Leo, then how did he win Oregon and Washington state?

    Actually, I’m not posting the map above. I’m putting it in a separate post. You’ll see at a glance how SC sticks out like a sore thumb in blue. It just doesn’t add up…

    1. Mark Stewart

      You’re obsessing about the real world logic of a screenwriter’s imagination – one who was a crack addict.

  2. barry

    Mark – a crack addict while working on the tv show (and a long time drug addict)

    Brad- you do realize this TV show was a TV show? Right?

    one that has been off the air for almost a decade?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, with me, you’re going to find that I’m highly unlikely to comment on things in popular culture when they first come out.

      I don’t have cable TV. (Well, technically I DO have cable TV, but I only pay for the broadcast tier, to get local stations clearly). So I won’t see new shows until they come out on DVD or on Netflix. I seldom go out to movies, so I have to wait on those, too.

      Which to me makes no difference. The quality of a show — or of an idea — doesn’t change because time has passed. If it is a good idea or a good show, it was good 10 years ago, or 100 years ago, or 1,000 years ago. And it will be 10, 100, 1,000 years in the future.

      Casablanca will always be awesome. So will “The West Wing.” So will Patrick O’Brian’s novels. Either it says something true about the human condition and does it well, or it doesn’t.

      And thanks to the Web and other forms of recording and transmitting media, we don’t have to be limited to what is being played before us at a given moment…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        There are rare exceptions to my anachronistic TV watching. I went to iTunes and bought the last season of “Breaking Bad” so I could see the final episodes almost in real time (within 24 hours of airing). But I’m not often that impatient. I managed to contain myself and wait for last year’s season of “The Walking Dead” to appear on Netflix. Because the season before that was less than awesome…

      2. Barry

        I too like older shows and older movies (compared to current ones). But I don’t talk about them as if they are currently occuring.

      3. Kathryn Fenner

        It’s your blog. You can write what you want to. I watched most of The West Wing when it was on originally. I just don’t remember it in a whole lot of detail, and checked out before Santos showed up.
        We don’t have any cable, nor can we pull in broadcast in any watchable manner. Don’t miss it.

  3. Brad Warthen

    I’d rather be writing about fictional characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin and the Napoleonic Wars, but too few people engage with that subject. At least with West Wing, I can strike a responsive chord. It’s more of a widely shared experience…


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