Category Archives: S.C. GOP Primary

Just one more day

AT TIMES this week it has seemed as though, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the media themselves were the message.
    For me, the apex of absurdity was achieved Monday morning, when I sat in a conference room here at the paper shooting video of a guy from French television who was shooting video of me talking about Saturday’s S.C. Republican presidential primary. You remember how, in old-fashioned barbershops, you could see yourself sitting in the chair in the mirror in front of you, reflecting the mirror behind you, and on and on? It was kind of like that.
    After the interview, the Frenchman followed me to the Columbia Rotary Club, where I had been asked to speak about the newspaper and its endorsement in said primary. In case you missed it, we rather emphatically endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain in Sunday’s paper. See more about that at my blog (address below).
    As I was stepping down from the podium at Rotary, a Danish journalist gave me her card, saying she wanted to interview me later. She had followed Columbia businessman Hal Stevenson to the meeting. Poor Hal. I had been sending some of the national media who were calling me to him, as a good, thoughtful example of the “religious conservative” kind of voter they were so eager to talk to. Now here he was, dragging journalists right back at me. (Just keep looking into the mirrors. Whoa … is that what the back of my head looks like?)
    On Tuesday, Michele Norris of NPR’s “All Things Considered” called on her cell while traveling across South Carolina, and we spoke for 53 minutes. But that was just the preliminary; we’ll tape the actual interview this morning. I’m also supposed to be on local public radio with Andy Gobeil this morning — and Andy and I will be on ETV live for primary results Saturday night.
    Thursday, I spoke with Dennis Miller of SNL fame, who’s now a conservative talk show host. He wanted to know how come South Carolina was having its Republican primary Saturday, but the Democratic primary a week later. I couldn’t give him a good reason, because there isn’t one.
    All this attention can be fun, but some get tired of it. Bob McAlister, for one. Bob is a Republican media consultant who made his rep as chief of staff to the late Gov. Carroll Campbell. In 2000, he was for George W. Bush. This time, he’s for McCain. He’s feeling pretty confident that he’ll be on the winning side again.
     But he’s got a beef with all the media types. “The national press wants to know about segments” of the GOP electorate, he complained. As in, don’t you think McCain has the retired military vote sewn up, or will McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney split the evangelical vote?
    “They talk about evangelicals as though we were some sort of subset of the culture,” Bob (a Baptist) complains. “They try to put us in a little box, as though we were apart from the mainstream in the Republican Party.
    “But in South Carolina, we are the mainstream.”
    As The Wall Street Journal said Thursday, “McCain campaign aides are hoping Mr. McCain and his rivals — Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson — divide the evangelical vote, leaving the state’s sizable population of military and independent voters to Mr. McCain.”
    Mr. Huckabee’s main hope, as a Baptist preacher himself, is to attract that whole evangelical “subset” of the GOP here. But it seems pretty divided. Fred Thompson, surprisingly, has the endorsement of S.C. Right to Life. Bob’s for McCain. Hal Stevenson is for Huckabee, but he seemed worried Thursday that there aren’t quite enough like him to put the former Arkansas governor over the top. He said he’s found “a lot of support for McCain and Romney among social conservatives,” because they think they have broader appeal. He particularly notes the McCain advantage on national security.
    Sen. McCain is counting on people like Jack Van Loan, about whom I wrote in this space yesterday. Jack’s a retired Air Force pilot, now a Columbia community leader, who met Sen. McCain when they were both prisoners of the North Vietnamese.
    In the interests of full disclosure, and in order to keep with my theme of media-as-message, he’s also counting on people like my Dad — a retired Navy captain who lives in West Columbia. My father is like most career military officers — politics has been something other people did, while those in uniform did their duty.
    Not this time. Dad spent a couple of hours working the phones at McCain HQ in Columbia Thursday morning. He was given a list of names to call, which he dutifully did. Speaking of mirrors, he was amused to find his own name and number on his list. Orders are orders — he called the number, and talked to my Mom.
    I did go out and check the pulse of the real world once or twice this week. But I didn’t gain much new information.
    Take Tuesday night: I went to hear Fred Thompson speaking at the Sticky Fingers in Harbison. He did OK — the crowd was good-sized, and seemed to like him. If you were in the Fred Thompson bubble, you might think he had a chance to win.
    Then I went out toward Lexington, to Hudson’s Smokehouse, to hear Mike Huckabee. Wow. The place was packed, and the people were pumped. That, I thought, was what a contender’s rally looks like in the last week. The crowd was impressive, even though from where I sat it was hard to see past the — you guessed it — media types.
    I missed the McCain rally on Gervais Street Thursday, because it happened at the same time that I had promised to talk to Dennis Miller. Bob McAlister says it was awesome, and had all the marks of a campaign headed for victory. But he would say that, wouldn’t he, being a McCain man.
    Maybe I’ll call a reporter who was there and get an objective view. Just kidding — sort of.
    Just one more day, folks. Tomorrow, it’s what you say that counts. Then we can do it all over again with the Democrats.

What it was really like at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’

        Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Editorial Page Editor
ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
    “I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
    “My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”
    In October of Jack’s first year in Hanoi, a new prisoner came in, a naval aviator named John McCain. He was in really bad shape. He had ejected over Hanoi, and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg ejecting. He nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out, and then set upon him. They spat on him, kicked him and stripped his clothes off. Then they crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
    That gave the enemy something to “bear down on.” Lt. Cmdr. McCain would be strung up tight by his unhealed arms, hog-tied and left that way for the night.
    “John was no different than anyone else, except that he was so badly hurt,” said Jack. “He was really badly, badly hurt.”
    Jack and I got to talking about all this when he called me Wednesday morning, outraged over a story that had appeared in that morning’s paper, headlined “McCain’s war record attacked.” A flier put out by an anti-McCain group was claiming the candidate had given up military information in return for medical treatment as a POW in Vietnam.
    This was the kind of thing the McCain campaign had been watching out for. The Arizona senator came into South Carolina off a New Hampshire win back in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush after voters received anonymous phone calls telling particularly nasty lies about his private life. So the campaign has been on hair-trigger alert in these last days before the 2008 primary on Saturday.
    Jack, a retired colonel whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for more than a decade, believes his old comrade would make the best president “because of all the stressful situations that he’s been under, and the way he’s responded.” But he had called me about something more important than that. It was a matter of honor.
    Jack was incredulous: “To say that John would ask for medical treatment in return for military information is just preposterous. He turned down an opportunity to go home early, and that was right in front of all of us.”
    “I mean, he was yelling it. I couldn’t repeat the language he used, and I wouldn’t repeat the language he used, but boy, it was really something. I turned to my cellmate … who heard it all also loud and clear; I said, ‘My God, they’re gonna kill him for that.’”
    The North Vietnamese by this time had stopped the torture — even taken McCain to the hospital, which almost certainly saved his life — and now they wanted just one thing: They wanted him to agree to go home, ahead of other prisoners. They saw in him an opportunity for a propaganda coup, because of something they’d figured out about him.
    “They found out rather quick that John’s father was (Admiral) John Sidney McCain II,” who was soon to be named commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Jack said. “And they came in and said, ‘Your father big man, and blah-blah-blah,’ and John gave ’em name, rank and serial number and date of birth.”
    But McCain refused to accept early release, and Jack says he never acknowledged that his Dad was CINCPAC.
    Jack tries hard to help people who weren’t there understand what it was like. He gave a speech right after he finally was freed and went home. His father, a community college president in Oregon and “a consummate public speaker,” told him “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give.”
    But, his father added: “‘They didn’t believe you.’
    “It just stopped me cold. ‘What do you mean, they didn’t believe me?’ He said, ‘They didn’t understand what you were talking about; you’ve got to learn to relate to them.’”
    “And I’ve worked hard on that,” he told me. “But it’s hard as hell…. You might be talking to an audience of two or three hundred people; there might be one or two guys that spent a night in a drunk tank. Trying to tell ‘em what solitary confinement is all about, most people … they don’t even relate to it.”
    Jack went home in the second large group of POWs to be freed in connection with the Paris Peace Talks, on March 4, 1973. “I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.” Doctors told him that if he lived long enough, he’d have trouble with that knee. He eventually got orthoscopic surgery right here in Columbia, where he is an active community leader — the current president of the Columbia Rotary.
    John McCain, who to this day is unable to raise his hands above his head — an aide has to comb his hair for him before campaign appearances — was released in the third group. He could have gone home long, long before that, but he wasn’t going to let his country or his comrades down.
    The reason Jack called me Wednesday was to make sure I knew that.

Video: Fred and Huck in SC tonight


Earlier this evening I swung by campaign appearances by Fred Thompson (at Sticky Fingers in the Harbison area) and Mike Huckabee (at Hudson’s Smokehouse near Lexington).

I’m not going to go on and on about it, as I’ve overdue for some sack time. But here’s a VERY brief synopsis:

  • The Thompson event was well-attended and the crowd was supportive. Fred’s delivery was smoother, more confident than the last time I saw him in person — of course that was awhile back, at Doc’s Barbecue. I would have said it was a really successful event that showed him as a candidate with a significant following.
  • I would have said that, except that when I arrived at Hudson’s — long before the candidate showed up — it was plain that, in the last days before the primary, there’s a significant difference in energy levels between an event featuring a well-liked candidate, and a guy who actually has a chance of winning. Huckabee had a larger crowd, and it was really pumped up.
  • But Fred gets more points for punctuality. The Huckabee event was scheduled for 7:30, and he arrived after 9. Before he finally got there, I had thought about going on home to get my supper, but I had such a good spot right in front of the podium, so I hated to give it up. He was so late, he was able to congratulate Mitt Romney for his win in Michigan at the start of his appearance.

Here you have two  rough clips from the events — Huckabee above, Thompson below — just to give you the flavor. If I get time any time in the next few days, I’ll see if I can come up with something more polished. I know, for instance, that there must have been some better footage of Thompson — but I used this because he talks about immigration, and he got a cheer for that. (Note that I didn’t have such a good spot for the Thompson event.)


Our plan for letters

Just FYI, in case you’ve sent in a letter to the editor related to the primaries…

Normally, we avoid running letters related to an election on the day of, or even the day or two before, to avoid getting into a situation of running something that quite fairly demands a reply, and there would be no time left for that (and while that is usually self-evident from the text of the letter, it isn’t always). But give the high interest in these votes, and the pace at which things are happening, I came up with this plan for the next few days, which we’ll try to implement to the extent that letters fitting these categories are available and confirmed in time:

  • Wednesday’s and Thursday’s pages: Give preference to letters about the GOP primary, with a particular preference to folks replying to our Sunday endorsement of John McCain.
  • Friday’s and Saturday’s pages: Continue to run letters on the GOP primary (which, of course, is Saturday), but give preference to those that are an argument for a candidate, rather than attacks and criticisms of other candidates (there being no opportunity for anyone to respond).
  • Sunday’s, Monday’s and Tuesday’s pages: Turn to letters on the Democratic primary, which is the following Saturday. Most letters on the GOP primary would be outdated and/or irrelevant after that vote has already taken place, particularly since they would not reflect the results. (Note that our production schedule demands that the Monday page be done before the Sunday one.) These letters would have to be in by Friday morning at the latest, since the MLK holiday forces us to have all pages done through Tuesday by the time.

By the way, the holiday will not be a day off for us, even though it is for the newspaper buildingwide. We’ll all be here dealing with endorsement stuff. But because we’re in here to deal with that, there would be no time for redoing the Tuesday pages. As it is, getting letters ready for publication to meet this schedule is going to be a stretch for our staff.

Anyway, in case you’re still a snail-mail person (and believe me, lots and lots of folks are), that’s the plan.

And of course, as you know, this venue is open to you 24/7.

Rasmussen: McCain widens lead; Clinton gaining on Obama

Right after I posted this video of McCain talking about 2000, I ran across evidence that things are definitely looking better for him this time than last time. Rasmussen has him up nine points over Huckabee. (And for you Fred fans — Thompson’s numbers have improved, too.)

Meanwhile, the race on the Democratic side is seen as tightening up. with Hillary Clinton only five points behind Barack Obama.

Video: McCain about the 2000 campaign in SC, and what’s different now

First, an update. I spoke to someone with the McCain campaign about the "push polls" release, and I doubt that there’s much to it. It seems that staffers doing a phone bank up in Spartanburg ran into a rash of people who were saying they wouldn’t vote for McCain because of his divorce back in the ’70s, saying it was evidence of his immaturity, and the similar wording in each of the "spontaneous" responses struck the phone bank folks as odd.

As I suggested earlier, sensitivity on this is on something of a hair-trigger over at McCain HQ.

Second, on that subject — I was going back through some of my video from the McCain interview back in August, and ran across some stuff I don’t remember using before. Since it bears on something I’ve eluded to in past posts (and columns), namely the 2000 campaign and our interview with him then, I thought I’d share it. Main point, with reference to the above topic, is that McCain himself doesn’t blame the smear campaign for stopping him in South Carolina last time. He said Bush just had the better organization, and more money.

Anyway, here’s the video:

The Media are the Message

Folks, I’m sorry I haven’t posted today, and that it will likely be several more hours before I DO post again. Reaction to our endorsement, plus the increased national and international media interest in South Carolina because of the primaries, are combining to eat up the little bits and pieces of time in which I usually blog while doing my actual job.

(For those who don’t know, I’m the editorial page editor of South Carolina’s largest newspaper, which means I have a lot to do even in normal times. No, the job is NOT simply about sitting around cogitating and then spouting opinions at random; I don’t care what you may have heard.)

… OK, long interruption there. I typed the above around 2:20 p.m.; it’s now 5:40; I’ve been in meetings ever since…

But one thing that took up time this morning — time I might have used to do a blog post or two — was kind of fun. Which brings me to what I was going to write this post about: the intense media interest (and voter interest, I might add, in the South Carolina primaries: Just FYI, here’s what I’ve run into in the last few days…

  • This morning, I was interviewed by Cyprien d’Haese of French television — precisely, CAPA presse tv. Cyprien’s one of these triple-threat guys — he conducted the interview, and was his own camera and sound man. The interview was about our McCain endorsement. You can see and hear above a video clip I shot of him shooting video of me (talk about medium being the message). This was sort of last-minute thing — someone called me to set it up while I was at breakfast.
  • Also during breakfast, I got a call from John Durst with the Columbia Rotary, to which I belong, asking if I would give a presentation at today’s meeting about endorsements. This I did, using most of the time for Q and A, which makes it easier on me and more interesting for the audience — there are always plenty of questions. Cyprien came along to shoot some footage of my presentation — after the interview, he had wanted some extra footage, and I suggested that would be more interesting than me sitting at a computer editing copy.
  • As I stepped down from the podium at Rotary, a young Danish woman named Sara Schlüter who works for this outfit (I give you the link because I’m not sure which is the name of her employer — is it "Avidsen," or "Nyhedsavisen" or what?) gave me her card, said she was on her way back home but wanted to call me later in the week for an interview. I said fine and gave her my contact info.
  • Just after 7:30 a.m. Sunday, I did a live interview via phone with C-SPAN about our endorsement. I’m sure you were watching then, so I won’t go into any more details…
  • Last Wednesday, I got a call from NPR’s All Things Considered wanting me on the show that day — something to do with my column that day — but by the time I called back they had lined up somebody else. Bill Putman with the show said he’d call back if they changed again and needed me. Unfortunately, I didn’t check voice mail or e-mail again until late in the day — Mr. Putnam had called me back three times, e-mailed me at least twice, and Michelle Norris had e-mailed me to say, in part, "I am a big fan of your blog [isn’t everyone?] and I think you are just the right person for this segment. Bill is having a tough time reaching you…." So I missed my chance there. But Ms. Norris said she’d be in town this week and would probably call…
  • One night last week (it tends to be night usually before I can return phone calls) I gave an interview with Jennifer Rubin with Human Events, which I’ve never read. When I mentioned this to my colleagues, Mike observed that "Human Events makes National Review look like Pravda." Be that as it may, she sent me a link to her story, and here it is.
  • Linda Hurst with The Toronto Star called, also about midweek. She had seen my video from talking to Ted Sorensen (or maybe it was Andy’s video, which is better), and wanted to talk to me about the parallels between JFK and Obama (which she frankly thought were sort of overblown). Here’s the story that she was working on.
  • I’m going to be on KARN radio in Little Rock this coming Friday morning at 8:40. Something called "First News with Bob Steel." The guy who contacted me said, "We’re looking to get a picture of what the citizens in your state are looking for in the Republican candidates, with a little extra interest in our local man, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee." OK.
  • Karen Shiffman of public radio’s "On Point" (I think it’s in Boston) wants me on the show in the 10-11 a.m. slot this Wednesday. I can’t remember where we left that…
  • I had to cancel something with a radio station in Boston this past Friday; we’re supposed to try again this week. I forget the station. Host’s name is Robin Young, and it will be live. They haven’t called back, but I guess it’s on.
  • Morgan Till with "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" e-mailed me last week wanting an interview this week. I forget where we left that one, too…
  • I’m supposed to be on "The Dennis Miller Show" again Thursday. Awaiting details.
  • Carrie Bann, who blogs and produces for NBC, wanted to get together, but that hasn’t happened yet.
  • Finally, I’ll be on ETV live with Andy Gobeil, as per usual, for the primary results the next two Saturday nights.

OK, so you’re not all that interested. I just needed to make myself a memo of where I was with all that stuff, and since I hadn’t posted anything today, I figured I’d put it on the blog. Also, I thought you might like the video clip with Cyprien.

Is McCain getting smeared in SC AGAIN?

One of the most shameful moments in recent South Carolina history was the anonymous smear campaign against John McCain conducted via phone "push polls" in 2000. It was particularly malicious, low and vile, spreading racist lies about an innocent child. Read this account to remind you:

    In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was
popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if
McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With
few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was
bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.

didn’t take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about
the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named
Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa’s orphanage in
Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and
the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.

opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain’s Bangladeshi born
daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a
voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which
candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the "pollster"
determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements
designed to create doubt about the senator.
    Thus, the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or
less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an
illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious
South, that’s not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone
calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and
anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.

That account was written in 2004 as a warning not to let it happen again. This morning, right after I got up to do a phone interview with C-SPAN about our endorsement of Sen. McCain, I saw this overnight e-mail from the McCain campaign:

volunteers making telephone calls for the McCain campaign report that
some voters recently received negative information about Senator
McCain. While we do not yet have conclusive proof, we are concerned
that this may be the beginning of a smear campaign.

you receive any malicious messages, letters, phone calls, e-mails,
fliers or any other form of "negative" information about John McCain,
please contact our McCain Truth Hotline directly at 803.477.6987 or email us at
as quickly as possible. (Note: If the attack is made over the
telephone, either by a caller or by a recorded message, please save the
recording and take note of the CALLER ID phone number for use as evidence of these unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics.)

you for helping protect Senator McCain from false attacks during these
last days leading up to our January 19 Republican Primary.

I certainly hope that this is a case of the McCain folks overreacting out of their perfectly understandable sensitivity — which is base in bitter experience. What happened in 2000 wasn’t just a painful experience for one man and his family — it’s widely believed to have given the S.C. primary to Bush (which, if it did, is in itself a dark stain on the honor of S.C. voters). If that analysis is correct, those vicious whispers had a profound effect on U.S. history.

If it’s starting to happen again, decent people all over our state should rise up to confront the lies, and repudiate the liars in the strongest terms. But is it starting to happen again? Have you received calls that fit this description.

This time, a quick consensus

Editorial Page Editor
THIS TIME eight years ago, The State’s editorial board faced a choice in the S.C. Republican primary between a visionary, “maverick” lawmaker with an inspiring resume and a governor who said he’d take the CEO approach, delegating the vision to the team he would build. We chose the self-described executive type, much to our later regret.
    This time, we’re going with the hero.
    Our board — Publisher Henry Haitz; Associate Editors Warren Bolton, Cindi Scoppe and Mike Fitts; and I — sat down Friday morning and deliberated for about 90 minutes before emerging with a clear and unequivocal consensus: We like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee a lot, but we have no doubt that Sen. John McCain is better-prepared to be our commander in chief.
    As our lead editor on national affairs, Mike framed the discussion, speaking at length about each of the Republicans. As others joined in, it quickly became apparent that each of us had reached very similar conclusions.
    You may not think that’s remarkable, but it is. Ours is a diverse group, and we struggled through remarkably grueling disagreements over presidential primary endorsements in the Republican and Democratic contests in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Those debates led to outcomes that some of us were never happy with. This time was very different.
    Mike spoke for everyone when he said Ron Paul was running in the wrong party; he had been a far better fit as the Libertarian nominee in 1988.
    Fred Thompson’s campaign peaked before it actually began, and never had much appeal. His candidacy still seems to lack a reason for being, although Warren suggested one: In the Myrtle Beach debate Thursday night, Mr. Thompson seemed to be “carrying water” for his friend John McCain, with his unrelenting attacks on Mr. Huckabee.
    While Rudy Giuliani makes the case that being “out of line culturally” with S.C. Republicans should not be a deal killer, he’s not so convincing that he’s the guy to lead the country in a dangerous and volatile time. Beyond his constant refrain of “9/11,” he doesn’t articulate what he would offer that the others would not. Mike, who is much troubled by the Bush record on civil liberties, worried that the former prosecutor would actually be worse.
    Mike was sorry Mitt Romney never came in for an interview, because he had “heard so many different things about him.” Of course, the “different things” came from the candidate himself, who has reinvented himself on issue after issue in his effort to find a stance that sells. So how can he be trusted to lead? Cindi observed, and I strongly agreed, that Mr. Romney’s great mistake was not running on his solid record as governor, particularly health care reform. He ran from it instead, suggesting contempt both for GOP voters and for the people who had elected him governor.
    Mike Huckabee made a very good impression in his meeting with us, back when almost no one thought he had a chance. We particularly liked his lack of fear of the more virulent government-hating element in the GOP — he had been unashamed to govern in Arkansas. He has the best grasp of the nation’s health crisis among the Republicans, and the greatest ability to communicate. We don’t like his “flat tax” or his vague protectionist notions, and he’s very weak on national security. That last point is his biggest drawback. His “gates of hell” bluster about the Iranian gunboats Thursday struck a jarringly false note, and it’s not what we’d want a president to say.
    John McCain has no such need to prove his toughness, so he’s comfortable speaking more reasonably. His understanding of America’s role in the world greatly exceeds that of his rivals (and of the current administration). He will always fight for what he believes in, but will not dismiss those who disagree. He’s never been an executive (in civilian life), but he’s a leader, which is better. Henry, the only businessman in the group, said the economy and health care are important, “But Iraq and foreign affairs are still the top concern,” and no one is better suited to address them.
    Warren demurred, especially with regard to Iraq: “I don’t think we ought to be there.” But while he disagrees with the senator (and me) on that, he respects and appreciates his military record, his willingness to work across party lines and his integrity.
    Henry’s one concern about Sen. McCain was his age. The rest of us were less worried — he seems unfazed by the strain of campaigning. But we agreed that should be a consideration in his choice of a running mate.
    Before we broke up, we agreed that the two leading (in the polls, and in our estimation) Republican candidates were preferable to either party’s nominee in 2004. Americans deserve a choice, at long last, between “good” and “better,” rather than being forced to settle for “sad” or “worse.”
    In a few days, our board will convene again to decide whom to endorse in the Democratic primary. I don’t know where we’ll end up on that; we have yet to meet with the major candidates.
    But however that comes out, we feel very good about the growing likelihood that one of the candidates on the ballot in November will be John McCain.

To read our endorsement, click here. To see video about the endorsement, click here.

We endorse John McCain

Folks, here’s The State‘s endorsement for the  2008 S.C. Republican Primary. Officially, it’s being published in Sunday’s paper. But it’s available online now.

At long last, eight years later than we should have, we are endorsing John McCain of Arizona. As readers of this blog will know, this makes me a lot happier than I was this time in 2000. This time, we’ve done the right thing.

Just click here to read the endorsement.

Video about the McCain endorsement

Andy Haworth of shot a video late Friday of me talking about the McCain endorsement.

I haven’t seen it yet myself — I’m typing this at a computer that lacks Flash, or something. I’ll have to wait until I get back to my laptop later in the day.

The video seemed like a really good idea yesterday morning with a couple of cups of coffee in me. I had noticed that the EPE at The Des Moines Register had done a video to go with their endorsement, and that seemed like a cool sort of extra little thing to do.

But at 5 or 6 p.m. — after our meeting to make the endorsement decision, after I wrote the endorsement, after I wrote my Sunday column, after I put the Sunday page together in Quark, then put it together again after it blew up because of the antiquated processor I try to paginate on, after I had printed out proofs — it didn’t seem like such a hot idea. But Andy was there with the lights and camera so, through multiple takes on practically every sentence I mumbled through, we got it done.

So I’m really counting on Andy’s editing skill here. At least I know the production values will be better than the Register’s.

To see my video, click here.

So is Thompson helping McCain NOW?

Fred Thompson supporters got pretty worked up about me suggesting he should bow out and support his friend McCain, as his best chance to have an influence on the outcome. His wife also explained how wrong I was, although she was nicer about it.

But this new thought occurred to me yesterday morning, when my clock radio came on… NPR was running a bit on the Republicans in South Carolina, and there was a clip of my fellow Memphis State grad talkin’, and he was really pounding on pore ol’ Mike Huckabee from over across the Big Muddy. And in that half-asleep state, I thought: "Is he staying in to help John McCain, by using the soapbox thus obtained to tear down the only candidate with a chance (note the polls) of beating him in South Carolina?" Fred’s no dummy; he can count. He knows either McCain or Huckabee is going to win here.

But I dismissed the thought, on account of its having arisen during the aforementioned twilight state of consciousness. And on account of what’s the point in mentioning it, since it would just make all those folks mad again.

Then I watched the debate last night out of Myrtle Beach. And first thing you know, ol’ Fred comes out whaling on Huck something fierce, just pounding away, using up a good chunk of his allotted time to tear the preacher man down.

After the debate, all sorts of folks commented on Fred’s attack on Huck. In fact, it was probably the most memorable thing about the whole show, one of only three things I still recall 24 hours later. (The other two things were the setting of the new Guinness World Record for saying "Ronald Reagan" most often in a 90-minute period, and the way the group ostracized poor Ron Paul yet again. I don’t agree a whole lot with Dr. Paul, but I believe he’s sincere, and I do hate to see a guy get picked on.)

What struck me as myopic was that so many of those commenting on those attacks by Fred on Huck interpreted them as Fred really, really wanting and needing to win in South Carolina. But he was just attacking Huckabee; he offered only the mildest criticism of McCain on immigration (allegedly the big reason he’s running instead of backing McCain as he did in 2000). Surely Fred knows you don’t win by tearing down just one of the three guys who are beating you.

I’m not trying to goad Fred into attacking McCain — or Romney, either (Romney’s kind a moot point anyway, since he’s deserted S.C. for a live-or-die effort in Michigan). But the facts before me push me toward one of several conclusions:

  1. Fred and McCain are in cahoots, with Fred playing the Huckabee-bashing heavy (which certainly doesn’t help Fred, because while it might hurt Huckabee, nobody likes the guy who does the beating-up). I don’t believe this for a second, because I don’t believe either McCain or Fred would do anything that underhanded.
  2. Fred is doing it on his own figuring that if he can’t win, he’ll at least help out his old buddy by taking down the opposition before he calls it quits. Still a doubtful proposition.
  3. Fred isn’t calculating at all; he just can’t stand Huckabee. Maybe, but it still doesn’t smell right.
  4. Fred really likes Huckabee, and was trying to trump up some sympathy for him for being picked on. Nah.
  5. Fred really is, at least on a conscious level, trying to win, but just can’t quite bring himself to pound his old friend McCain — whom he respects personally in spite of their differences — as hard as he’s hitting Huckabee.

That last one sounds the closest to right, but I don’t know. All I do know is that, whatever he intends, what he was doing, to the extent that it hurt Huckabee, was helpful to McCain.

Watch for endorsement, 3 p.m. Saturday

There are several things I want to blog about this morning — from last night’s GOP debate, other things — but I’m out of blogging action for the next few hours. We’ve had our editorial board meeting to determine our endorsement. It started at 9:30, and ended 15 or 20 minutes ago, as I write this just before 11:30. There was a lot to discuss, even though to our great disappointment, not all of the candidates came in for face-to-face interviews. (I’m beginning to really, really hate this compressed schedule, which has pulled candidates in too many directions.)

Now I have an editorial to write, and my Sunday column, then I have to paginate the Sunday edit page, and get proofs to my colleagues before the day is over.

When I’m done with all that, I have an engagement with Andy Haworth of to shoot a video of me talking about our endorsement.

That, and the endorsement itself, will be available Saturday afternoon. The endorsement will go up on at 3 p.m. Saturday. (Actually, I’m just guessing that’s when the video goes up; I haven’t asked.)

The endorsement will be in the newspaper Sunday. Between now and then, though, I have a lot to do. I’ll be back as soon as I can.

South Carolina is about Huckabee and McCain

Huckabee_2008_wartthurs called it a "knife-fight." The New York Times merely called it a "street fight," which I suppose means "knives optional." Either way, they’ve got it right: The South Carolina Republican primary is about John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

With Mitt Romney executing a disorderly retreat — he pulled his money out yesterday, and Mitt goes where his money goes — and Mr. Giuliani having been "Rudy Who?" for weeks around here, it’s all about the winners of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in the Palmetto State. And the stakes for those two candidates are about as high as they can get.

McCain has to break the South Carolina curse — our state having the shameful distinction of having given the momentum to George W. Bush after a particularly vicious whispering campaign. He came here eight years ago after having won in New Hampshire, riding high. Now, here we go again — will this time be the charm?

Meanwhile, Huckabee has to prove that Iowa wasn’t a fluke. Sure, you could give him a free pass on his dismal showing in New Hampshire, seeing as how the conventional wisdom has it nobody goes to church up there. But he will have no excuse for a loss here.

McCain has a handicap Huckabee lacks — the stakes for the Arizonan are just about as high (again, according to conventional "wisdom") in Michigan, if only because it’s of supreme importance to Romney to beat him there. Romney loses his daddy’s state, and it’s no more Romney.

Not only does he not have to fight a two-front battle, Huckabee’s new and fresh and expected to make rookie mistakes. The handicappers have been far less forgiving to ultimate veteran McCain all year; if he strikes out anywhere, they’ll write his political obituary yet again.

Yes, yes, I know — there are some of you out there who will cry, "No, you’re forgetting Ron Paul!" Or Fred Thompson, or Duncan Hunter, or … I don’t know — who else out there is still alleging to be in this?

But while I had hoped it would be otherwise — still, if Romney or Giuliani wanted to come in for an interview as late as Friday morning, I’d try to change all our plans to accommodate them — but at this point, conventional wisdom actually seems to have it right for once. In South Carolina, and increasingly nationally, it’s about McCain and Huckabee.


GOP radio debate cancelled due to lack of interest

Just in case you don’t believe what I said about how narrowed-down the GOP contest in South Carolina has become, check this e-mail I got today:

For Immediate Release
January 10, 2008

NPR/ETV Radio Republican Debate Scheduled for Jan. 16 Cancelled
Candidates’ Scheduling Conflicts Cited

Columbia, SC and Washington, D.C… NPR and ETV Radio have cancelled their Republican presidential audio-only candidate debate, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 16 in Columbia, SC. 
    "With the way the vote changed over the past few days, not enough candidates were willing to participate," said Andi Sporkin, Vice President for Communications, NPR.  "We look forward to working with them through other NPR News programming over the coming months and during the general election."
    Said Catherine Christman, Vice President of Communications at ETV, "The increasingly hectic nature of the campaign, and changing political fortunes after Iowa and New Hampshire, resulted in a roster of candidates whose availability kept changing to reflect the demands of their calendars.  While we’re disappointed the debate is cancelled, we’re delighted that ETV and ETV Radio still intend to carry almost 13 hours of programming related to the Democratic and Republican debates and primaries in South Carolina."


At this rate, I’m starting to wonder whether they’ll all show up tonight in Myrtle Beach…

Clock running out on GOP endorsement

Folks, not much has changed since my Sunday column with regard to our upcoming endorsements. As you’ll recall, our plan is to endorse in the GOP primary Sunday (Jan. 13), and in the Democratic on the following Sunday. In each case, that means we’ll be publishing the Sunday before the respective primaries.

Even though we’ve had our invitations out to the major candidates since
last summer, only McCain, Brownback, Huckabee and Biden chose to take
advantage of the opportunity before the last minute. That makes this year somewhat unusual for us — an unfortunate result of the compressed primary schedule this year, which caused some campaigns to avoid even thinking seriously about South Carolina before this morning. In 2000, McCain, Bush and Keyes all came in with time to spare. In 2004, Edwards, Lieberman, Dean, Gephardt and Carol Moseley-Brown all came in early enough to allow careful consideration. Only Kerry waited until the very last minute, which created a problem (since we didn’t think we should deliberate until we’d heard from him), one which we vowed to do our best to avoid this time.

Here’s what I sent my publisher earlier today by way of an update, since he and I didn’t have a chance to speak today. Since I’ve been tied up with internal editor stuff today, keeping me from posting as much as I did yesterday, I thought I’d just go ahead and share it with y’all as well:

I need to tell you these three things:

  • No word from any of the campaigns yet on interview appointments. At this point, the only Republican I’m still trying on is Romney. It would be a mistake on his part not to come in, so I still have some hopes in that quarter — but it likely will be very short notice when it comes. Giuliani is apparently not going to spend any more time in SC (other than going to the debate in MB tomorrow). Thompson had wanted to come in, but has apparently changed his mind, which is OK … that’s one we would have agreed to on request, but were not particularly seeking. Remember, we’ve already talked with McCain and Huckabee.
  • Now that they’re all turning their attention to SC — and now that Sen. Clinton is NOT going to skip our state (as most folks thought yesterday), I’m optimistic about getting them [the top Democratic candidates] in next week. Still no appointments, though. With things changing this fast, everybody is trying to keep their options open as to where they want to be when. Among the Democrats, the ones that most concern us are Clinton and Obama. The only Democrat we’ve already interviewed was Joe Biden, and he dropped out last week.
  • As discussed, we’ve decided to release our GOP endorsement (which will run Sunday) early on We’ll put it out there at 3 p.m. Saturday. We’ll do the same the following week with the Democrats. At Mark Lett’s [executive editor, the guy over the newsroom] request, I’ve given the newsroom all my contact numbers in case of media inquiries regarding the endorsement coming through the newsroom. I’ll give Kim Dalglish [the newspaper’s marketing director, who might also receive inquiries, and who might want to promote the endorsements] a heads-up on all this as well.

Remember, our [editorial board] discussion about our GOP endorsement will be at 9:30 a.m. Friday (UNLESS Romney agrees to come in, and the only time he can come is Friday). I’ll be writing that editorial and a column, and paginating the page, starting the instant that meeting is over.

That schedule — assuming everything goes well — is about as tight as we can make it, and still have a page out in time for all board members to read the proofs and raise any questions or problems. That’s standard operating procedure with every day’s page, but it is particularly important to avoid shortcuts on such a high-profile endorsement. Procedurally, something like this is sort of the opposite of this blog, which is a more or less stream-of-consciousness thing that no one looks at but me before it’s published. Since we operate by consensus on editorials, I don’t want any member of the board to feel left out on this. (Warren Bolton will be coming in on his day off, by the way, since we were unable to get this done before Friday, thanks to the campaigns’ procrastination.)

For more on this subject, I refer you to an comment I posted on an earlier post, in response to something Doug Ross had said:

Doug (way back up at the top),
transparency has always been my main goal in writing columns, and that
goes double for my blog. Why on Earth would I spend this time doing
this otherwise?

No invitation has been extended to Ron Paul
— or to Dennis Kucinich, Tom Tancredo, Mike Gravel or Duncan Hunter.
But had any of them wanted to come in over the last few months, we
would have made time. We’ve already had our interviews with McCain and Huckabee.
They did a wild and crazy thing that too few campaigns have done — the[y]
accepted back when invitations were first extended to them and the
other main candidates. Late summer, as I recall. (You’ll recall that Brownback and Biden also came in — before dropping out.)

Giuliani, Romney, Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Thompson were all
invited way back then, and invitations have been re-extended since then.

At this point, Giuliani seems to have decided to skip SC, so I’ll be
surprised if he comes in before we make our decision on Friday. The one
candidate I’m MOST concerned with getting in here before Friday, then,
is Romney. I must have talked to four different people in his camp
yesterday (some more than once), reiterating our invitation.

For Romney (and, if a miracle happens, for Giuliani), we will sweep
all other work aside to make time. And BECAUSE we’re trying to keep
these last few hours open for them, I’m not going to bug Thompson any more (I asked again yesterday when Mr. Thompson was here);
nor am I going to extend a last-minute invitation to Dr. Paul. If he
had asked before this week to come in (as Thompson did, as recently as
the last couple of weeks, although he offered no times, which is why I
gave them another chance yesterday), he would have been welcomed.

That’s what I know as of now.

McCainiacs at play


s I mentioned back here, I tried dropping by some of the campaign gatherings last night. I had received e-mail invitations to gatherings the McCain and Obama folks were having (both of them anticipating wins), and I thought I’d swing by any others I could find.

Seeing the lights on at the Romney HQ, I stopped there first, but my timing wasn’t good. I had first dropped by my daughter’s place to hold my grandchildren for an hour, so I was out of touch. To my surprise, as I walked in, Mr. Romney was giving his NH concession speech. As bad as my timing was (seeing as how I wasn’t invited), I bugged Will Holley yet again about getting the candidate in for an interview before Friday, then left, seeing as how no one was in much of a chatting mood.

I then went by the McCain gathering at The Back Porch, which was the only place with a crowd, so I shot these pictures just as McCain was giving his victory speech. No one seemed to take much notice of the flash (which I hate using, because it’s generally so intrusive), with all that was going on. Then it hit me that I needed to go redo the editorial page, so I split.

After I left the paper again, a little after 10, I went looking for the Obama "party." Needless to say, there wasn’t one. There had been an intended party, at Damon’s, but by the time I got there I saw only 4 or 5 people standing around looking dazed. I decided to head to Obama HQ, but on the way I called Zac Wright, the only Clinton staffer whose number I had programmed into my Treo. I figured the Clinton people were probably having a party that would make the McCain gathering look like a funeral. But I couldn’t get Zac. (Haven’t been able to get him today, either — although Warren has talked to Darrell Jackson.)

At Obama HQ things were quite subdued. I only saw one person I knew at first — top staffers seemed to be in a back room in a conference call or something. I did chat with Inez Tenenbaum as she passed through the entrance area on her way out, but I’ve already mentioned that.

So all I have to show for all that would-be party-hopping is these few snaps from the short while I was at the McCain thing. Make of the photos what you will. You probably already knew that Speaker Bobby Harrell, Attorney General Henry McMaster, Sen. Mike Fair, Rep. Gloria Haskins and ex-Rep. Rick Quinn were in the McCain camp, and that B.J. Boling and Buzz Jacobs were on staff (The staffers reminded me that the last time I’d been to the McCain HQ — which is right next door to The Back Porch — it was a much lonelier place). I didn’t know about Glenn McConnell, but then for all I know he was just looking for a free drink on the night of the first day of the legislative session. I didn’t ask; I only saw him (and snapped the pic) on my way out the door.

And yup, that is TPS blogger Adam Fogle whose McCain sticker the attorney general is pointing at in the picture at top. The rest of the pics follow…




South Carolina just became more important — to everybody

Tonight’s surprise-twist ending in New Hampshire tonight just upped the odds at stake in South Carolina. No more talk about Hillary skipping South Carolina; she’s going to be going for a knockout punch; Obama will be if anything even more determined to win here.

Over on the Republican side, after a split decision between Iowa and N.H., South Carolina is looking more make-or-break for everybody.

I left the office tonight intending to drop by the McCain and Obama results-watching parties, having received e-mail notices of both. On the way, I stopped by the Romney HQ on Gervais when I saw the lights on. My timing wasn’t the greatest. The first place I had stopped leaving work was my daughter’s house, to visit the babies, and I didn’t realize what was happening in N.H. until I got to Romney’s place — just as Mr. Romney was on the tube giving his concession speech (rather gracefully, the part I heard). After asking Will Holley again to try to nail down a time for an endorsement interview ASAP, I bowed out.

The McCain gathering was a real party, the only one I saw tonight. Henry McMaster, and pretty much everybody I talked to, said there was now no question about it — McCain was going to win S.C. Of course, Romney and Huckabee (who was leading polls here last time I looked) will do their best to have something to say about that.

On the way to Obama HQ, I tried getting Zac Wright on the phone to see if there was a Clinton celebration somewhere, but no luck. The mood at Obama’s place was subdued, but not the end of the world. They, too, say they’re going to win here.

In any case, everybody on all sides are going to be busting their buns to do that, even harder that we thought when today began.

Save this woman’s life! Vote for McCain

Dropping by the Starbuck’s on Gervais after this morning’s McCain event, I found his national press secretary, Brooke Buchanan, standing outside smoking while other aides were inside picking up the senator’s joe. I had a rather stern chat with her about her nasty habit, and she promised to give it up as soon as Sen. McCain wins the nomination, a pledge I captured on video so she couldn’t wriggle out of it later.

So now it’s up to you, the voter. The fate of this lovely, vibrant young woman with her whole life before her (the NYT says she’s 26) is in your hands. To save her, you must vote for McCain in the Jan. 19 primary.

Doesn’t this just make the choice so much simpler?