While the GOP presidential candidates are taking center stage in the state this week, South Carolina Democrats are taking a keen interest in the proceedings– including former Gov. Jim Hodges.
Handicapping the race on MSNBC Wednesday, Hodges said Romney is benefitting as voters to the right of the former Massachusetts governor are divided among several candidates.
“I think the number of candidates you have out there has made it very difficult for one to zero in on any particular segment of the party,” he told host Chuck Todd, “As a result they are all dispersed and divided and I think that benefits Mitt Romney.”
Republicans voters in South Carolina have chosen the eventual GOP nominee in every presidential primary since 1980. Hodges says that record is due in part to the state’s pecking order in the primary system. “Part of why South Carolina Republicans has been successful is that they have been third in the (primary) process. They have allowed Iowa and new Hampshire to weed out candidates who weren’t going to be successful. The candidate coming out of New Hampshire normally is the one that wins here in our state.”
A number of political pundits say that South Carolina Republicans are proud of their record of choosing the eventual GOP nominee since Reagan in 1980. They believe Romney is leading in the polls because he is seen as the candidate that is best equipped to defeat President Obama.
Hodges, however, does not buy the concept of the “strategic primary voter,” “I don’t think there are whole lot of GOP voters waking up and saying, ‘which one can beat Barack Obama?’ I think they want a candidate they feel strongly about, that they connect to. With Mitt Romney’s problems with tax returns (Tuesday) and Bain Capital, I don’t think he really connects with South Carolina voters.”
An Obama supporter, Hodges says he has concerns about what is seen as racial polarization of South Carolina voters with 75 to 77 percent of whites voting Republican, while 90 percent of the black vote going to the Democrats. He says some candidates in various political races in the state have made statements that have been polarizing and that both parties need more candidates with broader appeal.
“What we need are candidates on both sides who appeal to a broad multi-racial coalition. To be successful as a state and as a country we have to have multi-racial appeal with our candidates to move the nation forward. That is what I love about Obama; I think he really does appeal to a multi-racial coalition.”
Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win South Carolina in 1976. Hodges points out that in 2008 President Obama lost to John McCain in South Carolina by nine percent of the vote while not spending much money in the state during the fall campaign. Hodges says going forward Democrats can do better if they invest more time and resources in the state.
“I think part of the problems for Democratic candidates is that they do not invest enough time in South Carolina. They could do better here. Let’s face it, we are a state with a very high unemployment. Economic messages (and) education messages work here and I think that’s what Democrats should focus on.
Hodges is the last Democrat to serve as Governor of South Carolina, holding the office from 1999 to 2003.