They say it is rare
for someone to announce a presidential candidacy in the
state of South Carolina. Unless of course, the candidate
comes from the Palmetto State.
Duncan Hunter doesn't. His home is 2,288 miles to the
west, where palm trees make us think of the natural beauty
of the desert, not swamps.
They also say it makes more sense, if you're a White
House hopeful, to focus your early money and energy on the
two states that hold the nation's first presidential
contests for both political parties – Iowa and New
Hampshire. The idea is to visit so many town meetings you
lose track, to practically own stock in the local coffee
joints, and to talk the ear off every last voter and
political operative you can hunt down.
You do all of this especially if you're a third-tier
candidate, like our Republican congressman from Alpine,
who desperately needs to make an early splash if he hopes
to win the sort of national attention, campaign money and
political momentum that might carry him through states
with later primaries.
Since announcing around Halloween that he was
considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination,
Hunter has been to South Carolina at least four times,
certainly more often than he has visited New Hampshire or
Iowa. Late last month, he made his campaign official while
in Spartanburg, S.C. And it was in South Carolina, North
Carolina and South Dakota where he aired his first TV ads
– commercials highlighting his belief that China is
stealing American jobs and threatening U.S. security by
“cheating” at trade.
LOOKING PAST IOWA, N.H.
Such ads might not have worked so well in Iowa, whose
voters tend to be conservative on most social issues – the
state's GOP caucuses are typically dominated by religious
conservatives – but less conservative on military and
Up in New Hampshire,
meanwhile, far-right candidates don't play so well now
that independents, who can vote in the primary elections,
exude such influence. While George W. Bush may have
prevailed among Republicans in the 2000 contest there, it
was Arizona Sen. John McCain who courted independents and
carried off a 19-point victory.
South Carolina, meanwhile, is staunchly Republican.
Even the Democrats tend to be conservative. It's a state
whose textile industry has been battered by overseas
competition, a welcoming environment for Hunter's
protectionist trade views.
Moreover, South Carolina holds its contest Jan. 29,
just seven days after New Hampshire's. Eight years ago,
GOP candidates had 18 days between those two elections.
How candidates do in this first test in the South could
influence the nation's first impression of them, and thus
their popularity in contests to follow.
While front-running McCain has locked up the
endorsements of half the South Carolina Legislature, he
could have trouble courting the Christian conservatives
who may be critical to winning the party's nomination –
and who aren't convinced that the Arizona lawmaker shares
their values on banning gay marriage and other social
HARD-LINERS FOR HUNTER
They'll have no such qualms about Hunter. Rep. Trent
Franks – the anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage congressman
who recently split with Arizona's GOP congressional
delegation to back Hunter – has called the former House
Armed Services Committee chairman “an unequivocal social
and fiscal conservative.”
Hunter was most recently in South Carolina last week to
name his state campaign advisers, whose views buttressed
One adviser, Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle,
highlighted her tough stand on illegal immigrants. The
former county GOP chairwoman stood beside Hunter and told
reporters that when an illegal immigrant came to her
office last week asking for free legal help for an abused
child, Eargle advised that the woman “get back to Mexico.”
Whatever one thinks about this brand of humanitarianism,
there's no question that it dovetails nicely with Hunter's
hard-line stand on illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, Hunter's campaign co-chairman will be Henry
Jordan, an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor
who said last year that science doesn't support Darwin's
theory that man evolved from apes. “I mean, you've got to
be stupid to believe in evolution, I mean really,” he told
The Associated Press at the time.
The day after those announcements, Hunter spent Friday
visiting with FreedomWorks, a group that advocates cutting
taxes and shrinking government whose chairman is that
well-known Texas conservative, former House Majority
Leader Dick Armey.
Dana Wilkie is a
Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and
a longtime observer of California politics and social