White House favorites in town

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

In a 2016 election-season first, Charleston gets dual visits this week from the two presidential candidates many believe are destined to be the nominees.

Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton will be here one day apart, so they won’t actually be crossing paths.

Bush will be at the Charleston Maritime Center on Thursday morning for the South Carolina stop on his White House kickoff tour that begins Monday. It will be the former Florida governor’s first opportunity to introduce himself in person to a Lowcountry audience of Republicans.

Clinton is coming Wednesday for a forum at Trident Technical College in North Charleston before attending a closed fundraiser late in the afternoon in Charleston.

It’s Clinton’s first trip to the Lowcountry since 2008, when her first White House bid stumbled as Barack Obama vaulted past her to the presidency.

While Bush and Clinton still face months of campaigning, many political observers say the pair appears to be the best positioned to win their party’s nominations.

“There’s definitely a possibility that these two people are going to be the nominees,” Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said. He cautioned, however, that “a good possibility doesn’t mean an absolute certainty.”

Bush already enjoys a degree of name advantage in South Carolina where most polls put him at or near the top in GOP preference surveys, though he currently shares top billing with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

As the son and brother of presidents 41 and 43 — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively — he already has an established network here after both won earlier South Carolina presidential primaries and became popular networkers and visitors.

Plus, his mother, Barbara Bush, graduated from the Ashley Hall School in Charleston.

Clinton spent a day campaigning in the Columbia area last month. Her most recent appeal to potential South Carolina supporters came earlier this month during a speech at historically black Texas Southern University in Houston. She called for protecting and expanding voting rights.

Clinton pointed out that South Carolina state law requires one voting machine for every 250 voters per precinct.

“But in minority areas, that rule is just often overlooked,” she said, naming Richland County, home to the South Carolina State Capitol, where in 2012 nearly 90 percent of the precincts didn’t meet the state standard.

“Not surprisingly, people trying to cast a ballot there faced massive delays,” she said.

While Bush today may be the GOP favorite to make it onto next November’s ballot, he still faces significant hurdles in South Carolina, which holds the nation’s first-in-the-South presidential primary on Feb. 20.

Rivals for the nomination, including Walker, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and others, have all spoken to or drawn large crowds at recent South Carolina events. Some are attracting more of the tea party, evangelical and conservative Republicans who typically make up much of the primary turnout.

Other strikes against Bush here are that he was an early supporter of the Common Core program in public schools and in easing immigration restrictions, positions that some conservatives disagree with.

“His record is much more moderate than his brother’s — the difference between a Florida Republican and a Texas Republican,” College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart said.

Still, many see Bush as having more staying power — especially financially — to be in the race for the long haul.

On the Democratic side, Stewart said Clinton clearly is on much safer ground than the rest of the Democrats, such as Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

“She should do well in South Carolina because her largest supporters within the party are women and African-Americans,” Stewart said. “These are the largest voting blocs in the Democratic primary in South Carolina.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.