A Changing Primary Schedule Hits A S.C. Community
By Amanda Duckworth and Jim Williams
The early bird gets the worm philosophy currently threatens to minimize Darlington county’s exposure in the 2012 election circuit. With Florida threatening to move its primary date up, South Carolina would be forced to follow suit to maintain its “first in the South” status. Bill Pickle, chairman of the Florence County GOP, says this means, “We’ll never have the opportunity for these candidates to come through here.” (Florence in just south of Darlington and part of the same broader region and both are Minority Central counties in Patchwork Nation.) This would be a big blow to an area that has been visited by Republican candidates Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry in the past two months. Hurrying the process will simply give residents of this county less time to inform their decision and select the best candidate.
While prospective voters and strategists recognize the drastic influence of such a shift, the everyday folk of Darlington County don’t seem to be too concerned with the impending primary season. Is it time or indifference that leads to the lack of buzz? With an African-American population of41.6%, a large number of citizens may be counting on voting along race lines. Minority Central, however, does supportRomney overall (throughdonations,) perhaps for his stance and previous work on health care that would be convenient and applicable to the undereducated and underemployed members of Darlington county.
But it also may have something to do with the difference between the white and African American populations in the area. Research on these communities shows there is usually a sharp divide in white and black opinion.
Away from politics, college-entrance test scores do seem to be a hot topic in this area. While SAT scores havefallen in South Carolina, the county boasts increases in both ACT andSAT scores. Additionally, Darlington County’sHonors College program is flourishing, allowing high schoolers to get a jump-start on their college credits. Standardized exam scores have drastically improved, which may possibly help to decrease the13.4% unemployment rate in Darlington County in 2009.
This concern over employment in the county is displayed in the influx of news regarding newjobs andemployment opportunities. The area is less concerned with the status of Presidential contenders and more focused on the expansion of local jobs. This emphasis might translate into eventual votes for Rick Perry or Obama, seeming champions of the job market on the right and the left. For now, however, Darlington remains concerned with immediate and community focused job growth.
In local politics, Darlington County plans to adopt anew election plan for city council districts. This plan will protect the three existing minority council districts while maintaining an equal age distribution. This has significance for the 2012 election. It shows that Darlington County’s interests are split by region. Heavily African-American districts are more likely to be liberal, and therefore are more likely to vote for President Obama. On the other hand, those districts that aren’t filled with minorities are likely to vote for a strong Republican candidate who has a message focused on jobs. Rick Perry instantly springs to mind. This will likely divide the county into racial areas going into the 2012 election, furthering the theory put forth in Patchwork Nation.
Candidates in the mayoral race also show interest in increasing economic growth andpopulation growth in Darlington. Tony Watkins says, “The biggest mistake that we have made as a community is failing to recognize the importance of growth. Growth is not just about getting new businesses in town. Growth is about increasing population.” This meshes will with the importance of immigration in the GOP field. In recent debates, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the two leading contenders, have squared off on the issue. Perry has taken a more liberal position, allowing illegal immigrants the right to in-state tuition at Texas’ educational institutions. This may help him gain increased favorability over Romney. Either way, it will be interesting to see how these issues play into the 2012 debate. Perhaps more interesting will be how the states continue to vie for early primary dates.