Friday, August 18, 2006

Kerry Playing Better in the South

Cross posted from Liberal Values

The South was a problem for Democratic candidates in 2000 and 2004, but John Kerry is showing that things may be different in 2008. Check out this account of a recent visit to South Carolina:

Kerry finally plays well in S.C.

When U.S. Sen. John Kerry announced he was coming to South Carolina to talk about health care and raise money for the state Democratic Party, one could almost hear the groans from Greenville to Charleston.

What’s that liberal Yankee doing down here? We showed him two years ago what we thought of him.

South Carolina voters preferred President Bush by a wide margin, 58 percent to 42 percent.

Skeptics said the Massachusetts Democrat would be lucky to draw a dozen or so people.

Kerry had the last laugh when he hit the state late last month. The reception also seems to show the could-be presidential candidate will treat the state differently than in 2004.

Overflow crowds greeted Kerry at a Charleston town hall meeting and a Democratic rally in West Columbia. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley introduced him at the town hall gathering.

Party officials say they were not prepared for the response.

Some 400 people jammed into the Woodmen of the World hall in West Columbia to hear Kerry. An estimated 250 were turned away, organizers said.

“We ran out of food,” said Kathy Hensley, chairwoman of the Lexington County Democratic Party.

Hensley said she has not seen anything like the reception Kerry received in her 50 years around politics. “I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing.”

The senator had to tear himself away from the crowd, observers said. People followed him out the door to his car, hoping to shake his hand or get an autograph.

Almost two years after his presidential bid ended in defeat, Kerry has embarked on a cross-country campaign. He insists he’s not running for president. But everyone knows better.

Call it what you want. He’s testing the waters.

Charleston attorney Waring Howe Jr., a Democratic National Committee member, said Kerry is serious about it, “almost to the point you can expect he actually will” run.

In his S.C. visit, Kerry looked and acted like a presidential candidate — smiling, grasping for outstretched hands and offering thumbs up as he made his way through the crowds.

He took off his suit jacket and spoke from a small platform that somewhat cramped his style.

He attended private receptions and met with key party officials, seeking their support.

Some, like former S.C. Democratic chairman Dick Harpootlian, were not swayed. They still remember 2004, when Kerry kicked off his presidential bid in South Carolina, never to return again.

That angered Democrats across the state.

“He wrote us off after two months,” Harpootlian said. “His track record is not one that I want to see repeated.”

Nationally, Kerry came close to winning. He has said he would be in the White House today if 60,000 Ohioans had switched votes.

To which Harpootlian responded, “Yeah, if Napoleon had had B-52 bombers, we’d all be speaking French.”

Harpootlian said Kerry lost because he couldn’t connect with white Southerners. So, he wrote off the South.

Democrats need a candidate like Bill Clinton, one who has broad appeal, and can attract Southern voters, Harpootlian said. He’s leaning toward former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, he said.

“I think you’ll see a different campaign next time,” said James Dukes, Kerry’s S.C. director in 2004 who now is interim director of the state party.

Kerry plans to return to the state one more time before the Nov. 7 mid-term election.

Should he become a candidate in 2008, Kerry says he’ll treat S.C. differently.

Translation: He’ll pay more attention to us.


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