A Local Perspective on the South Carolina Vote

For "on the ground" analysis, Farai Chideya talks South Carolina politics with Todd Shaw, professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of South Carolina, and Cynthia Pryor Hardy, host of the local radio talk show On Point with Cynthia Hardy.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

But today, we've got a closer look at the lay of the land from a local perspective.

Here to give us on-the-ground analysis, we've got Todd Shaw. He's a professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of South Carolina. Also, Cynthia Pryor Hardy, host of the radio talk show "On Point with Cynthia."

Todd, Cynthia, welcome.

Ms. CYNTHIA PRYOR HARDY (Host, "On Point With Cynthia Hardy"): Thank you, Farai.

Professor TODD SHAW (Political Science and African-American Studies, University of South Carolina): Hello.

Ms. HARDY: Thanks for having us.

Prof. SHAW: Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, nice to meet you in the flesh, Cynthia.

Ms. HARDY: Yes, I do - I was delighted to be with you last Friday.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. So let's talk about the feel here in South Carolina. The primary's three days away. Candidates have been campaigning since the Nevada caucus ended. Todd, is the excitement still building here?

Prof. SHAW: Oh, yeah, very much so. And you can see it sort of palpable. I mean, I think in various settings across the community, people are coming out, they're excited, they're debating, you know, they're thinking really hard about this decision that they're about to make.

CHIDEYA: Cynthia, what about geography? The state is, you know, people talk about New Hampshire, one of the earliest primary. And it's pretty small. You could - politicians can hop around. This is a big state. So how does geography play into who goes where?

Ms. HARDY: Well, it's been interesting because we've got four major hubs: The Florence PV area. Then, of course, we've got the upstate area where Greenville is, then we've got the low country with Charleston and here with us in the midlands, and folks have been everywhere. I was down in Myrtle Beach for the Democratic presidential debate the other night and we had a real cross-section of people who were there. And it was - you'd be hard pressed to talk to anybody who had not had the candidates visit their area. And that's been pretty good, you know, to see folks realize that what they have to do is to really get out there and get out there among our three-and-a-half-or-so million people here in South Carolina.

CHIDEYA: Todd, there are a whole lot of visitors here. There's a lot of celebrities, a lot of people who have come from other states - later on, we're going to be hearing from a blogger who came all the way from top of the East Coast to try to come here and see what was happening for herself. So how does it feel here in terms of communications, particularly from celebrities? Do people buy in to the messaging? Local folks buy into the messaging that they're getting from outsiders?

Prof. SHAW: I think, well, South Carolinians are able to kind of filter some of the celebrity out, certainly, and to - but, you know, they're also quite aware that the celebrity helps draw their attention to certain things. I know, you know, there's been a much a buzz about Oprah Winfrey and that rally that she held on behalf of Barack Obama, you know, a little while ago and drew 29,000 people.

So I think, yeah, they're aware that the celebrity is out there, trying to grab their attention in certain ways, but I think some of it is helping to focus attention in ways that would be difficult otherwise.

CHIDEYA: Cynthia, what about the issue of identity politics? We just heard about our visit to Benedict College and Kerry Washington, popular actress, was saying, well, I thought about being a feminist, I thought about being African-American, but ultimately was the issues. She chose Barack Obama. How are people, including you, processing the whole issue of the variety of demographic choices that people have in this Democratic season?

Ms. HARDY: I think that it's interesting - first of all, it's interesting that we have so many choices that we can take a look at the candidates and see where we see ourselves. I think that's exactly what we have to do, though. I think we have to look at a candidacy where we see our own ideological slant and it's there where we should cast our vote. It isn't whether the person shares your ethnicity or that they share your gender, it's do they share same value system. And it's one of the things that the actress Kerry Washington said in the interview before. You know, do they share the same value system that we share? And if they do, then that means they're more closely - they're more likely to act in a way that I would have my commander in chief to act.

And so - you know, I'm hoping that as people feel the pressure - and there is pressure. I mean, the Clinton campaign is campaigning strong. The Obama campaign is campaigning strong. And even the Edwards campaign, they, you know, kicked it up a notch. And so there's a lot of pressure on voters to make a decision.

And so as we make that decision, I would hope that people wouldn't take the easy way out, which is to say let me vote for him because I want to see a brother get in or let me vote for her because I want to see a sister get in. But, do these individuals share ideologically what I believe in and the direction that I would like to see my country go.

CHIDEYA: Todd, do you get a sense that Hillary Clinton has backed off from really competing as hard as she could in South Carolina?

Prof. SHAW: I've heard some of that, and certainly some shifts in her schedule sort of suggest that. I don't think in any public way - certainly because Bill Clinton's presence is still here - that that's an admission. But - and you know, I share with Cynthia, I - and on the reverse side of this coin, I would hope that that's not the case. I think better strategy for the Clinton campaign would be, we're not conceding any ground. And African-American voters are critical to us, critical to Democratic Party, critical to this country. So I would hope they didn't give that impression if, in fact, that is actually the case. But I hear those from impressions.

CHIDEYA: Cynthia, you were at the debate in Myrtle Beach, and Senator Obama made particular mention of his faith, saying, I am a proud Christian. He talks about trying to rein in evangelicals to the Democratic Party. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): And as somebody, you know, who believes deeply in the precepts of Jesus Christ, particularly treating the least of these in a way that he would, that it is important for us to not concede that ground because if we - I think we can go after those folks and get them.

CHIDEYA: Cynthia, do you think that this is pandering to black Christian voters, insulating himself against some of the occasional slings that his middle name is Hussein or just good politics?

Ms. HARDY: I think it's good politics. You know, I'd listened to him. I was talking to a family friend the other day who also went to Harvard. And she shared with me that, you know, a number of young law school graduates come out of Harvard, intending to go back into the community and to do good. But when the final analysis happened, somehow, financial gain reigns out above the desire to do good.

In the case of Barack Obama, he went back. He did work with those small churches. He did do those things. And so because of that, it appears that what he's talking about is something that he has lived and that something that he espouses to be. So in that case, if he's done it and it actually is a part of what he can claim, then I think it's good politics.

CHIDEYA: Todd?

Prof. SHAW: Yeah. I think it clearly plays into sort of the - it could play into this broader sense about how are the Democrats trying to reclaim the mantle or some sense of connection between religiosity, one's faith and politics, in a careful way. And I think Barack Obama knows that he is hitting the right buttons here in the South - not to be (unintelligible) - but here in the Bible Belt. And if that's - that is critically important in the African-American community. The church connection in one's faith is critically important.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to thank both of you so much. It's great to have you here - to be here in South Carolina.

Prof. SHAW: You're welcome. Thank you.

Ms. HARDY: And welcome to South Carolina.

Prof. SHAW: Yes, ma'am.

Ms. HARDY: It's great to see you in our state.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

Prof. SHAW: That's right. It is. It is.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with Todd Shaw, a political science and African-American studies professor at the University of South Carolina, and Cynthia Pryor Hardy, host of the radio talk show "On Point with Cynthia." They joined me hereā€¦

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