Over the next two weeks as Republican presidential candidates flirt with primary voters in South Carolina, it might benefit the state and nation if they’d show up in places different than usual political stops.
Anybody operating under the standard play book is going to opt for more populated areas — or GOP strongholds — Greenville, Lexington, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island or Florence — so they can make the TV news and get as much earned (also known as “free”) media as possible.
“If you aren’t getting earned media, it isn’t worth your while,” one seasoned GOP veteran told us.
But the beauty of the primary system that America now has is that it starts out in smaller states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — where candidates can meet “real voters” and shy away some from standard operating procedure.
So we asked some folks from around the state to suggest places where candidates might visit to learn more about how to be a better national leader. We asked, “If you could buttonhole a GOP presidential candidate and take him anywhere in South Carolina, where would you go and why?” Among the answers — plus some of our own:
Charleston Neck. A nonprofit executive suggested the Neck that connects Charleston and North Charleston because it is a high-poverty area straddling wealth in communities.
“He would encounter a third-world culture in a first-world country,” she said, “and it’s not right that we have those conditions in America.” South Carolina has the nation’s 10th highest poverty rate with 17 percent of residents living at or below the poverty line, according to the 2010 Census.
These poor areas, often just a few miles from the million-dollar mansions or country clubs where candidates generally have big fund-raisers, are endemic of conditions dragging down the country. In South Carolina, candidates can find such conditions — rural areas in Allendale or Barnwell counties and some urban parts of other metropolitan areas — close to any traditional campaign stop. (On a political note, reaching away from the comfortable GOP base would likely score points for the candidate in a general election — and couldn’t hurt in the primary.)
Aiken. Another observer suggested that candidates visit the Savannah River Plant outside Aiken to get a tour so they better understand important issues surrounding nuclear waste and its legacy. Presidents, he explained, are going to have to deal appropriately with storing and cleaning up messes of the past.
Scott’s Branch High School. An Upstate professor encouraged GOP candidates to visit Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton to better understand how segregation impacted the state — and how the past still haunts the present. Scott’s Branch is a school highlighted in the Briggs v. Elliott court case, one of five consolidated into the Brown v. Board of Education in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal.
Even today, conditions in “Corridor of Shame” schools from Dillon County to Jasper County along Interstate 95 generally are substandard to those in more affluent areas of the state. By visiting Scott’s Branch school, the professor explained, candidates would better understand how a quality education system is key for future generations to become more fully involved in the country’s economic system. In other words, a better education will lead to better jobs for all, but if we don’t invest in education, we won’t reap the rewards, particularly in rural areas.
Marion County. Candidates could see how the One Laptop Per Child SC project empowered students with digital learning tools. Students in pilot projects are learning in new ways that integrate computers with traditional classrooms.
Spartanburg Tech. Contenders could learn how high-quality technical education really works by fueling new skills, such as those who went on to work at the BMW auto plant.
Bottom line: Candidates should get out of their political comfort zones and learn from South Carolina over the next two weeks so they can be better candidates — and leaders — for the future.