S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 22, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0422.debate.htm

Blue debate in red state offers challenges for candidates
By Andy Brack, Publisher

APRIL 22, 2007 - - Pity the poor Democratic presidential candidates who show up in Orangeburg to wrestle with the press and South Carolina political issues.

They don't have an easy job. Just about every issue they're likely to be hit with is fraught with danger - a misstep here, a soundbite off there could tar them as a (gasp!) liberal and cause campaigns to spin out of control.

Just look at the issues likely to arise during the nationally-televised debate at S.C. State University:

Gun control. After the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, one of the first questions out of the gate likely will be about how candidates would reduce gun violence. In South Carolina, with its outdoor traditions and fierce independence, any talk of limiting guns may be certain political death.

Iraq. The number one issue nationally, the Iraq War will get serious attention by listeners, although candidates have a lot of experience in dealing with their views.

Confederate flag. Now that USC Gamecock Coach Steve Spurrier reawakened talk recently about the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds, candidates surely will be asked about it. Answers from Democratic contenders will polarize the state's electorate and may steer moderates away.

Nuclear waste. Since South Carolina has been a longtime home to high-level and low-level nuclear waste, the issue of waste disposal may arise, especially since state lawmakers sent a new message recently that they won't keep taking most other states' low-level waste.

Education. Probably the number two issue nationally, South Carolina's terminally low education rankings may thrust the spotlight on some things being done well, such as tough standards, and things that are lacking. Examples: The abysmal response to improving education in the so-called Corridor of Shame counties and the lack of more expansive offerings for early childhood education.

Cigarettes and health. With the state still having the lowest-in-the-nation tax on cigarettes, there might be questions about what candidates would do to improve the nation's health and its struggling health care system.


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Abortion. Recent efforts to force women who want abortions to view ultrasounds died in the Statehouse, but South Carolina remains a hotbed of zealous ideologues on abortion. And combined with the U.S. Supreme Court's fresh ruling allowing partial-birth abortions, the issue surely will raise its head during the debate.

Payday lending. Because the payday loan industry with 1,100 offices around the state can offer loans with interest rates that can be up to 390 percent, candidates may find themselves under the gun about what they would do to resolve predatory lending.

Other issues that could come up might highlight the state's coastal insurance crisis, poverty, high incarceration rate, violent crime and offshore oil/gas exploration.

If you watch this first debate of the 2008 political season, however, step back a little and listen to a larger message. We'll be watching to see which candidate triangulates (Clinton?), speaks from the heart (Edwards?), strives for America to do better (Obama?) or is comfortable and homey under the media glare (Richardson?). We'll listen for scrappy realism (Biden? Dodd?) and how the long shots (Kucinich? Gravel?) are trying to impact the campaign agenda.

By stepping back and listening larger, you might be surprised. You might find your candidate for president. Or, you could just wait a couple of months for the big GOP debate and go through the same exercise.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

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Shootout on gun laws ahead?
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

APRIL 20, 2007 -- With cries, bullets and death having pierced the Blacksburg sky, is now the time in the Statehouse for both sides of the gun control issue to come together and take a second look at South Carolina's gun laws? Errr … in a word, no. In fact the bloody incident only served to further entrench the foes.

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