South Carolinians — and it seems especially those of us in Beaufort County — have been lavished in the past two weeks by the attention of those who would be leader of the free world.
Now it is time to earn that attention. It is time to vote.
This Saturday and next, the polls will be open and the stakes are enormous. On Feb. 20, the Republican presidential primary here will go a long way in sorting out who will stay in the race and who will be on the November ballot. A week later, South Carolinians will make a landmark decision for the Democrats in what is an unexpectedly tight contest.
In Beaufort County, we have had chances that few Americans ever get. We have been able to see and talk to the candidates face to face. From here on out, their attention will be fractured by the many primaries in many states.
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What South Carolinians think matters. Eight years ago, this state sent Barack Obama on his way to the White House with a resounding victory over Hillary Clinton. And with only one exception since 1980, as South Carolina Republicans have voted in the primary, so has the nation. And even in that primary, Beaufort County voters sided with the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
South Carolinians have embarrassed themselves on occasion over the years, falling prey to political operatives using racism to win elections. This year, we’ve seen plenty of sharp elbows as every candidate knows the outcome here is crucial, but nothing like the year it was whispered one candidate had a black child out of wedlock.
Maybe it means something that the state this year placed an African American senator, Indian-American governor and Cuban-American presidential candidate on the same stage for the Republican Party. Maybe it means something that eight years ago the Democrats selected an African-American candidate, and could this year select a female.
But our main concern is voter participation. South Carolina will not earn respect if registered voters do not go to the polls.
And, sadly, they do not.
Our colleague at The State newspaper and web site in Columbia, associate editor Cindi Ross Scoppe, reports that 60 percent of South Carolina voters normally sit out the Republican and Democratic primaries.
“Why in the world would the 1.1 million South Carolinians who vote Republican in November let fewer than 300,000 people decide who’s on the ballot?” she asks.
The polls are open all day this Saturday and next, and any registered voter can vote in either primary — but of course not both. Nobody registers by party in South Carolina.
Especially with outliers surging in the polls for both parties, South Carolinians should take the primaries seriously. They should vote.