"We haven't been through this presidential primary process like Iowa and New Hampshire.  We're still excited when somebody running for president shows up.  It's a big deal.  And so I think in many ways we're more like America in that it's a more normal environment.  It's not sort of the traditional Iowa, New Hampshire, they've been here, they've done that a hundred times before."
-Phil Noble, May 2003
Major Events:
-Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum, sponsored by WIS-TV, Center for Community Change, and the Tom Joyner Morning Show in Columbia, SC -- Friday, January 30, 2004. 

-The South Carolina Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate, hosted by MSNBC, Young Democrats of South Carolina and Furman University, at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, SC -- Thursday, January 29, 2004. 

-Dem Fest Weekend -- May 2-3, 2003

As an early state in the primary calendar, as the first Southern primary, and as a state with a large minority population, South Carolina drew a fair amount of attention from the candidates.  South Carolina Democrats were first to settle on the Feb. 3, 2004 date for their primary.  The executive council of the South Carolina Democratic Party set the date at its Feb. 12, 2002 meeting.  Other states later joined in so that eventually seven contests were held on February 3, and the candidates' attention later in the campaign was not perhaps as intense as it had been early on  (early visits).  The primary was run by the state party, and skeptics questioned whether the party would be able to raise enough money to conduct it. (interview)

South Carolina encompasses a number of distinct regions stretching from the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont Plateau (Pee Dee) to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Phil Noble, president of the South Carolina DLC and founder and CEO of Phil Noble & Associates and Politics Online, describes his fellow Palmetto Staters thusly, "I think...we're a little crazy and cantankerous, and we're always sort of different in throwing a monkey wrench in the machinery, but fundamentally I think we're a pretty good reflection of America."  There are 46 counties.  Just under 30 percent of South Carolina's population of four million consider themselves Black or African American according to the 2000 Census. 

The Confederate Flag posed a tricky subject for Democratic candidates in South Carolina.  The flag formerly flew atop the Capitol, but now flies at a Confederate monument on the Statehouse grounds.  The NAACP called for economic sanctions on South Carolina "until the Confederate Flag is removed from positions of sovereignty within the State."  A South Carolina NAACP fact sheet stated, "No hotels, no restaurants, no tourism, period."   Despite such strictures the campaign proceeded. 

Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.) hoped to benefit from his status as a Southerner and a military man.  He picked up much of the organization of Sen. Bob Graham after the Floridian withdrew in early October.  The Clark campaign opened four regional offices around the state in addition to its state headquarters in Columbia.

Former Gov. Howard Dean secured some early endorsements but did not gear up his campaign organization in the state until early December.  Responding to concerns about how well he, a New Englander, could do in the South, Dean liked to state that, "White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too."  However, in a telephone interview reported on November 1 Dean shortened this sentiment to, "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks," prompting a frenzy.  The New Republic highlighted Dean's difficulty relating on matters of faith and religion in a December cover story.

Sen. John Edwards, born in Seneca, South Carolina, needed to win or do very well here.  Edwards gained the backing of at least 16 current state legislators and nine county chairs, more than any other candidate.

Sen. John Kerry included a stop at Patriot's Point in Charleston on his announcement tour in early September 2003.  Kerry featured one of his Vietnam crewmates, David Alston, an African American born and raised in South Carolina, and now a minister here, in a TV spot.  In January Kerry picked up the endorsement of retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings and a week later he inherited the endorsement of Rep. Jim Clyburn after Rep. Dick Gephardt withdrew.

For Sen. Joe Lieberman the Palmetto State was one of the several February 3 states where he hoped to do well; a summary from the campaign cited "his lifelong commitment to civil rights, connection with voters of strong faith, strength on defense in a state with a large military presence, and profile as an independent-minded Democrat."  The Sunday before the primary Lieberman gained the endorsements of The State and the Greenville News.

Rev. Al Sharpton placed a major emphasis on South Carolina spending a lot of time in the state, putting staff on the ground and opening an office.

Rep. Dick Gephardt had a put together a fair South Carolina organization before he withdrew on January 20, 2004.  Gephardt had laid some groundwork in the pre-campaign period as his Effective Government Committee leadership PAC contributed $26,000 to 26 mayoral candidates in the closing weeks of the Nov. 2002 election campaign; many of these mayors later endorsed him.  Gephardt opened a headquarters in Columbia in May, and in December he picked up the much coveted endorsement of Rep. Jim Clyburn. 

Sen. Bob Graham had a sound South Carolina organization in place before he withdrew in October.  Former executive directors of the SCDP served as his state director and political director.

Even Amb. Carol Moseley Braun made a faint, short-lived play in South Carolina, opening an office in Columbia in late December.

Toward the close of the campaign considerable controversy sprang up about the oath voters were to sign.  The statement read: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that I am a registered voter of this precinct, I consider myself to be a Democrat, and I have not participated in the 2004 Presidential nominating process of any other political party."  SCDP Chairman Joe Erwin ultimately rescinded the requirement less than two days before the vote. 

The flag also arose as an issue in South Carolina's 2000 Republican primary; now Republicans are having fun as Democrats grapple with it [SC GOP Jan. 21, 2003 press release].  Rep. Gephardt on Jan. 11, 2003 told AP the Confederate flag "is a hurtful, divisive symbol and in my view has no place flying anywhere, in any state in this country."  Then on March 9, 2003 he told AP, "It's a hurtful, divisive symbol in our country, and it just shouldn't be in public places.  They're free to do whatever they want in private property."


South Carolina Democratic Party
Chairman  Joe Erwin
Executive Director  Nu Wexler
Finance Director  Brandi Roberts
Director of Party Organization  Joiquim Barnes
Field Organizer  Jenn Waldman
Primary Returns and Reporting  Wyeth Ruthven
Office Manager/Staff Assistant  Monica Bell
Receptionist Nancy Brock


Some South Carolina Links
South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP
South Carolina Democratic Leadership Council
South Carolina Progressive Network
South Carolina Young Democrats
University of South Carolina Law Democrats
Clemson University College Democrats
South Carolina Chamber of Commerce


Copyright © 2004  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.