The EFM Feature

The next morning, the lobby of the Radisson in Columbia, South Carolina had glossy brochures on each table, exhorting the qualities of various Presidential candidates. The people behind the front desk whispered to me as each new person came through the door, saying, “He’s the state GOP chairman,” and “That guy works for DeMint.”
It reminded me of being in Knoxville right before a big game, as orange-clad people excitedly gravitate toward Neyland stadium, their cars decorated with flags. The people in Columbia, however, were dressed in red, white, and blue. Several ladies had blue Barbara Bush dresses and red shoes, while men had obligatory elephants on their ties. Their cars were decorated too, and a quick glance through the hotel’s parking lot could attest that the conference attendees were pro-America, pro-troops, and pro-life. Because their primary is always the first in the South, these Palmetto State Republicans play a decisive role in choosing the eventual Presidential nominee. Millions of dollars of revenue is generated by visits from the national campaigns as they traipse down to places like Spartanburg and Greenville for living room sit-downs and morning coffee at greasy spoons. Some call South Carolina a “fire wall” that stands between a candidate and the Oval Office, some call it a “sling shot” that propels its favored son all the way to D.C. John McCain probably calls it “Waterloo.” By now, the stories of his 2000 primary defeat there are legendary, and they’re discussed in hushed tones to this day.
“Things got… a little testy down here before,” a man said to me as he was unloading boxes of books for me from my Land Rover. I was doing a book reading and had a couple of hours to spare before showtime. He carried my books to a table outside a conference room so I could stack them in neat piles before people showed up. “You know, with McCain and all.”
“I heard something about that.”
There’s no doubt that 2008 will be just as dramatic. People were milling around the hotel, and I tried to nonchalantly listen to the campaign chatter. I heard two women say they’d decided to support Gov. Romney after his recent Tuesday trip. Another woman was a supporter of Duncan Hunter because of his deep faith.
“I’m for John McCain, and I’ll tell you why,” a woman pounded her fists on the table. I was eavesdropping, I admit, but it was easy–she was talking so loud I wondered if she was trying to convince herself.
“Why?” said a man at the table. I learned later that he was a former Allen supporter and still undecided.
“Because Lindsey Graham is endorsing him. And I trust Lindsey.”
The man looked unconvinced, and the woman exhaled deeply.
“Okay, I hate him too,” she said. “But they told me not to go around saying that.”
I must have inadvertantly laughed in my shock at her candor, causing her to look at me squarely. “McCain’s a kook, I think.”
I’m sure there are legions of McCain supporters in South Carolina. He obviously has several endorsements and many, many fans. But on this trip (like others I’d taken) I only happened to cross paths with South Carolinians who readily expressed down-right contempt for the guy.
“Who do you like?” an older gentleman turned the questioning to me.
“Romney,” is all I said. (What? I want Rudy and McCain supporters to buy my book, after all.)
“That’s good, honey,” he said. “In your own way, you’re already participating in the political process, aren’t you?” He patting me on the back like I’d just managed to write my own name in cursive.
The entire atmosphere was just amazing to absorb. Especially since–as I was nervously awaiting my turn to speak–Rudy Giuliani and his entourage unexpectedly came through the door.
To Be Continued…

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