Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn says South Carolina, where 2016’s presidential candidates face off next, is infamous for dirty political tricks.
In the run-up to their big presidential campaign moments, the big media players in Iowa and New Hampshire gave voters a useful online feature, an interactive calendar that let them track where candidates were appearing in person.
Down in South Carolina, it’s different. The interactive site du jour launched last week is the Charleston Post and Courier’s “Whisper Campaign” — a digital tool that begs the public to help keep tabs on the coming blizzard of dirty tricks.
As the White House hopefuls descend on South Carolina, site of the crucial Feb. 20 GOP primary and then the Democratic contest a week later, they’re also heading straight into what might be the seamiest underbelly of American politics. This is a state famous for telephone pollsters implying John McCain had an illegitimate child and the bogus Mitt Romney Christmas card with controversial quotes from the Book of Mormon. Fliers dropped on South Carolina doorsteps have told people the wrong date to vote; this is where political rivals have bantered openly with racial slurs and innuendos about sexual trysts.
The state has earned its reputation the hard way: It’s where the late GOP operative Lee Atwater was born, the man who turned negative campaigning into an art form in the 1988 presidential race, starting with his home state. While Iowa and New Hampshire tend to get a year’s worth of up-close and personal attention from the presidential field, South Carolinians usually experience the race in a quick burst of attention once the national spotlight shifts their way, forcing the campaigns into the quickest, often nastiest tactics they can think of to shape the race. And with a larger and far more diverse electorate than the first two states, there are more people with sensitivities to exploit.
“South Carolina on the Republican side is a viper’s nest,” said Neil Sroka, the head of Barack Obama’s digital team in the state during his 2008 campaign.
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