Carolina on their minds

Rod Pennington Author, A Family Reunion
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There’s a reason Charleston, South Carolina is often found on top ten tourist destination lists. We have great beaches and golf courses, amazing restaurants, Spoleto, historic sites and a temperate climate. Plus, for a few weeks every four years, the folks in the Palmetto State become the center of the political universe.

Since the first primary in 1980, the winner on the Republican side has gone on to be the party’s standard-bearer in the fall presidential election. We’ve called all of the Democratic races correctly as well, other than 2004 when South Carolina went for native son John Edwards.

Even those running for president have been bright enough to detect a pattern here. Win South Carolina and, unless you’ve sired a love child between visits to your wife’s hospital room, you win the nomination. With that in mind, it opens up the opportunity for mischief. It gives us local yokels a chance to mess with our betters.

Admittedly this is a down year for shenanigans since President Obama is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Plus, South Carolina is easily one of the reddest of red states — even my African-American congressman is a Republican. President Obama lost here by nearly 10 points in 2008 and with the Boeing mess still fresh in everyone’s mind he likely will not do nearly that well this time around. This means we don’t expect any visits from our great leader anytime soon. That’s a real shame.

I have to admit I’ll miss watching secular Democrats pander to those of us who “cling to guns or religion.” There is something special about being in the audience and seeing “Ezekiel” and “Galatians” spelled out phonetically on a teleprompter so the candidate doesn’t stumble over them when quoting scripture. I’ll really miss casting my ballot for Al Sharpton.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to have some fun. First, go online and contribute one dollar to every candidate and “PAC” you can find. For around the cost of two IMAX Harry Potter tickets, you can give your postal carrier a hernia from delivering all of the campaign mailings you’ll start receiving. So far I’ve filled two large grocery bags with unopened “Urgent” letters with still more than a week to go. This is pretty tame when compared to 2008, when Hillary Clinton and President Obama were duking it out and John McCain still hadn’t locked up the nomination. That year I got to set out over eight bags for the recycler.

Be sure to include your phone number when you make your donation. That way you can have nice chats with campaign volunteers and ask them embarrassing questions they would prefer not to answer. “Is Newt trying to show he’s pro-family by having so many of them?” “Does Governor Perry know his high-collared and French-cuffed shirts make him look like Ichabod Crane?” “Is Governor Romney jealous that fellow Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was asked to pose in Playgirl and he wasn’t?” “Is Ron Paul related to Pat Paulson? I mean, they look and sound so much alike.”

Next, lie to pollsters. South Carolina is a small state, so everyone with a land line gets called multiple times. I got three within a single 24-hour period. When they call, tell them you’re undecided. That really gets a pollster fired up. To stumble across someone so stupid or ill-informed that on the eve of the election they still hadn’t had enough time to make up their mind yet is a pollster’s dream come true. If you play it right, on election night you could even end up in one of those rooms where a pollster will hang on your every word and breathlessly report your insights to both of the people who’ve lost their TV remotes and are still watching CNN.

Who will I vote for next Saturday? Sorry, I’m still undecided, but if CNN wants me, my number is 843 …

Rod Pennington’s latest novel, A Family Reunion, is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family of assassins with Washington politics as a backdrop.