GOP transplants offer views

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., waits Friday to speak to a crowd gathered on Seabrook Island.

SEABROOK ISLAND — When Republican presidential hopeful John McCain stumped here Friday, he made his case to many who didn't vote in the state in the 2000 GOP presidential primary.

That's because they lived in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states.

Still, McCain gave this crowd of 300 people a similar speech that he has given across the state — one that emphasizes the need to fight Islamic terrorism, curb Washington spending, promote new energy sources and work with Democrats. He got some of his loudest applause when asked about his stand on taxes.

"What is my stand on taxes?" he asked. "You shouldn't pay any more." McCain favors a commission led by economist Alan Greenspan that proposes an overhaul of the tax code that Congress either would have to accept or reject in its entirety.

McCain's audience here can be considered a hyper-example of the changing face of the state's GOP electorate, which is seeing large numbers of newcomers that weaken the old cliches about its interests.

University of South Carolina political science professor Blease Graham said of the 309,000 new residents estimated to have moved into the Palmetto State since 2000, about 100,000 could vote Republican.

"Republicans are probably going to show an increased turnout over 2000, and there probably will be more of an emphasis on fiscal conservative issues as opposed to social conservative issues in this group," he said.

Seabrook Mayor Frank McNulty retired to the island seven years ago from New Hampshire. He estimates that 80 percent or more of the islanders are like him, relatively recent arrivals.

Jeanne Pfeilsticker, a McCain supporter, said she moved to Seabrook Island from Connecticut three years ago. "I'm a social liberal in a lot of ways, but there's no candidate who is going to represent all your views."

Trey Walker, McCain's South Carolina campaign manager and former director of the state GOP, said not only has the coast seen a lot of newcomers but also urban areas such as Greenville, Columbia and Charlotte's southern suburbs.

"This is all anecdotal, but I think it's borne out by election returns. These folks are not cultural Southerners. They're not born and bred in the South." They are typically fiscal conservatives but a little more moderate on social issues, Walker said.

Such views also benefit the campaigns of some McCain rivals, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned in Bluffton on Friday. It was his first town hall-style appearance since a political Web site reported that a New York City police security detail billed obscure agencies to protect his lover and watch over him during the affair leading up to their marriage.

Giuliani's campaign wouldn't make him available to reporters Friday. None in the crowd asked him about the billing disclosures during the event, although some grumbled about it beforehand.

It's less of a concern for 69-year-old Edward Grzelak. The affair and the political side of Giuliani's life shouldn't be linked, the retired driver from New Jersey said.

Still, McCain supporter and S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell said state Republicans still will be looking at many of the same issues they looked at eight years ago. As proof, both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson caught some flak Friday for their answers in this week's YouTube debate dismissing the public display of the Confederate flag.