S.C. Dems don't have to go far

James Clyburn

There may be fewer South Carolina Democrats than Republicans, but they’re sending twice as many delegates to Charlotte this week to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term.

This is the closest the Carolinas have gotten to a convention in more than a century — since the disastrous 1860 Democratic convention that paved the way for Republican Abraham Lincoln’s win.

Here are some of the big questions that should be answered by Thursday night:

Holding the second convention is an advantage — sort of like batting last — because the party can see what arguments the other side put up.

There was no shortage of criticism lobbed Obama’s way last week in Tampa, and this will be his chance to hit back.

State Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian said, “We’re not there, but we’re much better off than we were and we need to stay the course. If cutting taxes for the rich was the solution to our economic problems, there never would have been a crash of 2008.”

Bruce Ransom, a Clemson University political science professor, said Obama can be expected to point to the deep economic bind the country was in when he was elected.

“We have pulled out (of economic downturn),” he said. “Regardless of Republican criticisms, there are signs of recovery but they are not very dramatic at all. The question is will four more years equal continued slow, anemic growth or worse?”

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn not only is South Carolina’s most prominent elected Democrat, but he also has served as a loyal ally of Obama during the past four years.

Clyburn will be among the convention speakers, but it’s not clear when. “I think everything is in flux,” Harpootlian said.

However, Kendra Stewart, a College of Charleston political science professor, noted with Obama at the top of the ticket, it’s less important for the party to have speakers reaching out to black voters in the way that Republicans had woman and minority speakers reaching out with two white men atop the GOP ticket.

“That role is covered,” she said.

Studies show the more people who see or meet a candidate, the more likely they are to vote for him or her, Stewart said.

About 10,000 South Carolinians are expected to cross the state line to hear Obama accept his party’s nomination Thursday in Bank of America stadium. Still more residents could come for Monday’s convention kick-off party in downtown Charlotte.

“You’re seeing a lot more excitement from delegates with it being so close to home,” Stewart said, adding it could have an effect on South Carolina politics — though it’s doubtful it will turn the state blue on Nov. 6.

Harpootlian said the state party didn’t expect demand for Thursday tickets would be as high. “We could have put another 5,000 to 10,000 in there had we gotten the tickets,” he said. “That was a good problem to have.”

Obama has not visited South Carolina since he left the Columbia Convention Center moments after celebrating his big January 2008 primary win here.

Palmetto State Republican leaders like to point to this fact as Obama insulting the state — and his absence certainly hasn’t helped Democrats grow their grassroots.

Charleston County Democratic Chairman Richard Hricik said Obama knows he owes a debt to this state, adding, “We would certainly love to see him but we certainly understand if he’s unable to make an appearance.”

Palmetto State Democrats had hoped to lure comedian Jon Stewart to talk to them, but that did not pan out.

Still, convention planners like to add a few surprises to spice things up, such as Clint Eastwood’s surprise appearance in Tampa.

Eastwood’s performance there drew markedly mixed reviews, and one of the least surprising things in Charlotte might be how many Democratic speakers refer to it.

“There are probably going to be a lot of jokes about the empty chair,” Stewart said.

MONDAY: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg.

TUESDAY: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden.

WEDNESDAY: U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s sole Democrat in Congress; former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges; and Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee Chair Jim Roosevelt (grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt).

THURSDAY: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy of South Carolina, former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.