Candidates come South with momentum or anxiety

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Candidates come South with momentum or anxiety

AJC on the trail

Iowa and New Hampshire are done. The race for the White House now comes to the South, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will be there every step of the way. We’ll bring you the latest on how the Democratic and Republican races are developing in Georgia and the 13 other states voting on March 1, the day of the SEC primary.

Metro Atlanta to host Clinton, Sanders events

Now that the first two states have made their choices in the presidential nomination process, candidates are showing greater interest in Georgia, which will be one of 12 states to vote March 1 in what is being called the SEC primary.

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Atlanta on Saturday to urge voters to support his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic race. A time and place have not been announced.

Clinton’s rival, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, is planning a rally for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Morehouse College with students from historically black colleges and universities across Georgia.

Early voting for Georgia’s primaries began Monday and runs through Feb. 26.

Metro Atlanta to host Clinton, Sanders events

Now that the first two states have made their choices in the presidential nomination process, candidates are showing greater interest in Georgia, which will be one of 14 states to vote March 1 in what is being called the SEC primary.

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Atlanta on Saturday to urge voters to support his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic race. A time and place have not been announced.

Clinton’s rival, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, is planning a rally for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Morehouse College with students from historically black colleges and universities across Georgia.

Early voting for Georgia’s primaries began Monday and runs through Feb. 26.

Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich wasted no time in bolting New Hampshire for South Carolina on Wednesday. The other candidates for president won’t be far behind.

It’s a new day in the race for the White House, with candidates in both parties facing fresh challenges as well as familiar questions.

The candidates will be confronted with remarkably different terrain in the South. The Democratic electorates in New Hampshire and Iowa are overwhelmingly white, while the same voting bloc in South Carolina, Georgia and the rest of the region is heavily black. The Republican base in the South is more reflective of Iowa — deeply conservative and evangelical.

It’s fertile territory for Trump, who has attracted thousands to rallies across the Palmetto State.

Chris Drummond, a former television producer who served as communications director under Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, said Trump is “going to ride through South Carolina like Sherman did. The party is out of touch.”

Drummond sees Trump’s approach as similar to Newt Gingrich’s successful 2012 race in South Carolina’s presidential primary.

“There was an emotional connection and not factual connection,” he said.

The billionaire has the money and the energy to dominate in South Carolina as well as March 1 SEC primary states after sailing through New Hampshire, with Ted Cruz the nearest to his heels. But Rubio’s poor showing up north has changed one dynamic.

“Whatever the reason, the GOP suffered a serious setback in its quest for a sane alternative,” said Brad Warthen, a former editor at The State newspaper in Columbia who now writes about politics on his blog. “If Rubio could have come in second in New Hampshire after his strong showing in Iowa, the scene would be set for the other ‘establishment’ candidates to start lining up behind him. That most definitely did not happen — Bush, of all people, beat him!”

The race to be the establishment candidate — that is to be the one major alternative to Trump and Cruz — is back in disarray, said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist and pollster at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

“Everybody thought Rubio would take up the mantle after Iowa,” Huffmon said. “After his embarrassment in New Hampshire, that’s all up for grabs again.”

With Rubio finishing behind Bush and Chris Christie behind Rubio, the establishment movement is in dire straits.

The Republican field has shrunk, too. Christie and businesswoman Carly Fiorina on Wednesday suspended their campaigns after dismal showings in the first two contests.

Cruz, who became something of an afterthought in New Hampshire, will not cede South Carolina to Trump or anyone. His campaign claims 8,000 volunteers across the state and is zeroed in on areas such as Greenville, a conservative, vote-rich city that Cruz has already visited several times.

“We are going to do well in South Carolina, and we have a great ground game,” Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe said. “It’s a state where the winners of Iowa have done well. Rubio has some quality adversaries on his staff, but we have a great team. And organization matters.”

The real unknown, however, is whether South Carolina political history repeats itself. Famous for its personal and negative brand of politics, the so-called dark arts of campaigning are not unusual there. While the most famous example was the smearing of U.S. Sen. John McCain in his 2000 race against George W. Bush, hardly a campaign goes by in the Palmetto State without similar attacks.

On the Democratic side, both candidates will be in Wisconsin on Thursday for a debate before heading south themselves. The candidates and campaigns have begun to pay some attention to Georgia as its neighbor to the east prepares to vote. Bill Clinton will be in Georgia on Saturday and Sanders, too, will hold a rally in Atlanta next week.

First, however, South Carolina could lay bare the weakness of each candidate before the spate of contests in Georgia and other Southern states on March 1.

Clinton has locked down much of the Democratic establishment in South Carolina, including dozens of state lawmakers, and polls show her with huge leads over Sanders among black voters.

Sanders, trying to shore up his support among African-Americans, met Wednesday with the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem, and he plans a rally Tuesday at Morehouse College with students from historically black colleges and universities across Georgia.

In South Carolina, Sanders has the support of Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic chairman who was a major backer of Bill Clinton but who sided with Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Harpootlian said Sanders has a shot to win the state if he has the money to get his message on television. He has apparently done just that as his campaign reported that Sanders raised more than $5 million between the polls closing Tuesday in New Hampshire and Wednesday afternoon.

“The Sanders campaign has made over a million contacts over the last four weeks of Democratic primary voters,” Harpootlian said. “African-American voters, by mail, knocking on doors. His message is resonating with young voters. He got 80 percent of those under 30 in New Hampshire, and a lot of younger voters are African-American voters.”

The election will be a test of what’s become a South Carolina political trope: That the Clintons have deep and abiding support from the state’s Democrats — and especially its African-American Democrats. It was conventional wisdom in 2008, too, until Obama entered the race and trounced Hillary Clinton.

“Conventional wisdom is she should win” South Carolina, Harpootlian said. “Conventional wisdom in Iowa was she would win. Conventional wisdom in New Hampshire was she’d lose by single digits.”

Conventional wisdom, he said, has been wrong.

Clinton’s backers in South Carolina say they see Sanders gaining, but they remain unconcerned.

“No Democratic nominee wins without people of color, and Iowa and New Hampshire have very few people of color,” said Laurin Manning of Charleston, a former Obama campaign aide who now backs Clinton. “The primary calendar hasn’t been favorable to Clinton, but she is the best hope for Democrats in a general election, and she will be the nominee.”

Yes, Manning said, Clinton “isn’t getting a coronation as I thought she would months ago.”

“Bernie has tapped into something important, and I’m glad he is in this race,” Manning said. “Primaries are a good thing.”

With the Democratic primary still 2 1/2 weeks away, both candidates have time to build support. Julie Smith Turner of Columbia is that rare voter who hasn’t made a choice.

“I am a tiny speck of blue in a red state,” Turner said, “so I’m going to look at both of my candidates and make a decision.”

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