Walt on the campaign trail, in South Carolina:
Huckabee was scheduled to visit Aiken this morning (January 18), and I showed up, but the candidate was a no-show!!! However, his wife appeared, as did professional wrestler and 16-time WWE champion Ric Flair!!!
Aiken is only the 13th largest city in South Carolina, so it is expendable from the candidates’ point of view. Huckabee spent the previous night at Hilton Head on the coast, and intended to fly a chartered plane to Greenville today, with a brief stop and speech at the Aiken airport. However, this morning was quite foggy, and he cancelled. No problem – I understand, except that nobody told us.
On the way to the airport for the 10:00 event, I noticed the weather, and realized that he might not be able to fly. I got there at 9:00, an hour early. The Aiken Municipal Airport does not have scheduled air service; it is just a small airport for private planes, but it has a very nice lounge. I asked the air traffic controller whether Huck would be able to land, and he said that Huckabee’s flight plan showed him leaving Savannah at 9:25 and arriving in Aiken at 10:00, but under current weather conditions, his plane would not be permitted to land here. He could however, land at Augusta, GA instead, 26 miles away, and take a car here. It seems that Augusta has a beacon which Aiken lacks. I calculated then that Huckabee could not be less than 45 minutes late. There were several campaign volunteers setting things up – males in their 30s, including a black guy, professional and organized (like Hillary’s volunteers, but unlike Edwards’ people). I asked one whether he thought Huckabee would be able to show, and when? He said “we’re working on that”. Could mean anything. Later, when Mrs. Huckabee addressed us, she said that the decision was made last night that Huckabee would skip Aiken in order to make Greenville, and that the wife and Ric Flair would drive to Aiken. However, the flight plan was not cancelled last night – it was cancelled at 9:20 this morning. All the Huckabee people knew that he wouldn’t show, but they did not let on. Bastardos!
Anyway, about 120-150 people showed up, as well as six news teams. Everybody had to stand – there were no chairs. There were more babies and little kids – and mothers in their 20s and 30s – than at either the Hillary or Edwards events. About 2% of the crowd was black, indicating that Huckabee and Edwards have comparable levels of black support in Aiken. I was interviewed by a Swedish reporter for a paper in Stockholm! Isn’t that strange, Swedes visiting Aiken, South Carolina?
I asked a 40-ish overweight woman if she planned to vote for Huckabee. Yes, of course. Why do you support him over the other candidates? “I don’t know”. Well, at least she’s legal; there is no law mandating that a registered voter has to know why they are voting. The next woman I talked to, however, knew exactly what she was about. She is about 45, and was previously employed in the environmental remediation business (same line of work that I’m in), but now she works as an automobile mechanic at the Chevrolet dealership. She is the first woman auto mechanic I’ve ever met. Why does she support Huckabee? First, she’s a Christian. Second, she is very concerned about homeland security. Third, she supports the Fair Tax. She is a big fan of Neal Boortz, a libertarian radio talk show host. What about abortion and homosexual marriage? She is pro-life, but those issues are of secondary importance to her. She doesn’t believe in global warming.
Next I talked to an agricultural worker from Williston, a small town about 20 miles from Aiken. He is about 40, and was wearing a “US Border Patrol” cap. So I asked him if he is in the Border Patrol. No, he bought the hat in Charleston – there are lots of them there. That made me reflect on how big an issue illegal immigration is becoming. Five or ten years ago, I’ll bet no store anywhere sold Border Patrol hats. I sense that many Republican leaders have fallen behind their constituency on this, at least until very recently. Anyway, this guy’s number one issue, as you might expect, is no amnesty for illegals. Number two is the Fair Tax.
There was a couple standing next to me in their 60s. They are undecided voters (I too am undecided as I write this), but their biggest concern is that they want the US out of Iraq. Next, they are worried that the price of gasoline will drive us into recession.
While we were waiting, one of the campaign workers kidded around with me. He asked if I would be willing to do volunteer work for Huck. When I replied that I was undecided, he said that they needed undecided volunteers, to talk to all the undecided voters!
At 10:20 the speaking delegation showed up. First up was the SC Huckabee campaign chairman. The memorable thing about his speech was that he talked about the economy. Hillary did not discuss that when she visited in November, and Edwards did not when he visited only a week ago! It shows how fast the economy is becoming an issue, with the stock market drop. I’m betting that Hillary and Edwards, and everybody else, will be addressing the economy from here on out. After the campaign guy finished, wrestler Ric Flair addressed the group. He looks and talks exactly like what you would expect from a 58-year old professional wrestler. He brought his very young and stunningly beautiful blonde wife up to the stage. The thing about older celebrities with young trophy wives is, on one hand you think “way to go!”, but on the other hand, you know that prior to the trophy marriage, there must have been infidelity and divorce. I googled Ric Flair: he married her in 2006 following a divorce, and she is his third wife.
Then Mrs. Huckabee came out. Her speech was well rehearsed and effectively given; she is certainly a campaigner from away back when. However, it wasn’t a policy speech. About half of her speech was intended to show Huckabee and herself as likable personalities – family history, pride in their children, etc. Like Edwards (and unlike Hillary), she stressed their humble beginnings, and how they are living the American Dream. The other half of the speech, strangely enough, was about the US armed forces. She stressed their empathy and support for the military over and over again, and said that we needed to have a military force so strong that nobody in the world would ever want to tangle with us. As with all political speeches, she was frequently interrupted by applause. Whenever this happened, one woman near me would shout “Praise!” instead of clapping.
There was one other thing she said about the military. Although we want to have a very strong army, we should be very careful about using it, because once we get involved somewhere, it’s Katie Bar the Door, all kinds of complications can occur. It then struck me that her military speech was a masterpiece of ambiguity. Hawks will obviously be comforted by the support for the armed forces, but someone opposed to the Iraq war might think that Huckabee regards the war as a mistake, and be willing to pull out. Everyone can find something to like in her military policy. I think the reality for all the Republican candidates except McCain, who supports increased effort there, is that they all want to keep their options open in Iraq – to stay the course, or to pull out. I’m OK with that; it is a prudent policy, and most of the American people also seem to be willing to go either way in Iraq. So if you want out, vote Democratic; if you want in, vote McCain; and if you are flexible, vote for another Republican.
I left when Mrs. Huckabee began her closing remarks. Up to that point, she had not once mentioned religion. No elected Republican officials were there to support Huckabee. This surprises me – he is the most representative southerner of all presidential candidates in both parties this year. I would have thought there would be more support from local politicos. My guess is that since Huckabee’s rise has been so recent (it’s only been one month since he has been taken seriously!) that the elected officials had already committed themselves to McCain. McCain really, really, really wants to win in South Carolina. He has been to Aiken four times in the last six months, and once he even bought dinner for the audience. Anyway, this will be my last South Carolina candidate speech; the primary is tomorrow. The polls are showing Obama leading Hillary by 9 points, and McCain tied with Huckabee.