Make or Break Time? S.C. and Florida Primaries Presidential candidates have much to win, and lose, in South Carolina's Democratic primary today. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are all hoping to win delegates. Meanwhile, the Republicans are focused on Florida, the first state in which all the main candidates have campaigned.
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Make or Break Time? S.C. and Florida Primaries

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Make or Break Time? S.C. and Florida Primaries

Make or Break Time? S.C. and Florida Primaries

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, let me turn to you, Ron. Is Florida really the make-or-break contest for the Republicans? Is this critical for all of them or just Rudy Giuliani?

RON ELVING: I think it's critical for all of them, and I think it's by far the most important state we've seen so far on the Republican side. Of course, Rudy Giuliani has put all of his chips here. He has got to win. If he doesn't win, he's got to be awfully close to winning. He has to come back from his current third place, fourth place position and nearly win in order to have momentum for those big primaries on February 5th, which include, by the way, winner-take-all events in New York, the state, New Jersey, the state, and Connecticut. The whole metropolitan New York area is going to weigh in, and all three of them are going to be winner-take-all as Florida is.

He could suddenly leap to the fore. He could be in the front of the pack in terms of delegates if he could pull this off. And that's been a strategy all along, and it was working until it stopped working. And other states started voting and he did not get any kind of response from any other state. And as a result, he has spiraled down.

SEABROOK: Very interesting here. Now, we aren't just talking about Republicans in Florida. Why are we just talking about Republicans in Florida?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: Well, we pretty much are just talking about Republicans in Florida because the Democrats in Florida have been penalized by their national party for leaping ahead of the February 5th date that was proposed to be the limit. You couldn't go any sooner on the calendar. And because they violated that, the national party gave them the death penalty. They are getting no delegates at the national convention whatsoever as it stands right now.

Do we expect that to change at some point? Yes, but not between now and Tuesday. So that vote will have no effect on choosing delegates, and the candidates have agreed not to campaign in Florida. So they haven't been running ads down there and they haven't been doing anything other than raising money down there. They haven't been having events.

SEABROOK: I see. Okay. But let's turn then to South Carolina, because the Democrats do have this, you know, make-or-break for some, it would seem contest today. The returns we expect again tonight after the 7 p.m. Eastern time close of the polls. We will report those returns as we get them. But of course, how critical is this, Ron Elving, for the Democrats?

ELVING: I would not say that it is quite as important for the Democrats as South Carolina was for the Republicans because South Carolina has become the trigger primary for Republicans. Everyone who has won the nomination of the GOP since 1980 has won South Carolina first and then triggered a tremendous domination in the South. We haven't seen anything like that in the Democratic Party. It just has not been that important.

On the other hand, it was given special permission - unlike Florida - to have its primary in January up there with Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional early starters, because specifically the national party wanted a heavily African-American state. And South Carolina is about 29 percent black. And they are heavily concentrated on the Democratic side, so more than half of the Democratic voting base today is expected to be African-American. And the party specifically wanted that.

This, of course, has become particularly important because as it also turns out this is the first time we have had a frontrunner or near frontrunner who was African-American himself.

SEABROOK: Ron, there is so much handwringing about whether these early contests were in January. As you just said, we moved up Super Tuesday, move the contest leading up to that. What has been the effect of early voting in January? I mean, almost Christmas voting, it seemed like.

ELVING: Well, I think it's too early in the opinion of most every American that I've ever talked to. People would just assume that this contest began a little closer to the November 2008 finish line. But it's going to begin as early as the candidates begin jockeying. And the states are going to begin jockeying to be as early as possible in imitation of Iowa and New Hampshire, which have tremendously increased their importance in American politics, and also, reaped real economic benefits from having these early events.

Now, I don't think any of these other early events has done as much for any of these other states as for Iowa and New Hampshire. They still get special benefits. But a few other states, I think, are getting into the act and we're going to see a lot more of these in the future if the national parties don't figure out a way to organize this whole a lot better.

SEABROOK: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks very much for joining me here.

ELVING: Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: And we should remind listeners that they can learn more about what's at stake in today's Democratic primary in South Carolina and all of these races as - then they can follow results after the polls close tonight at 7.pm. at npr.org/elections.

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