On the campaign trail: Former Sumter reporter Bristow Marchant breaks down the presidential races

BristowMarchantAn award-winning journalist now covering politics for the Rock Hill Herald, Bristow Marchant is a reporter many from Sumter might recognize, having previously covered state and local politics for the Sumter Item.

In addition to continuing to holding those same responsibilities at his current position, Marchant has used a lot of ink in the past few months covering both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

Marchant has also been providing his insight into how the races are shaping up in South Carolina for various outlets, appearing most recently on FoxNews.com, and was kind enough to provide a few of his thoughts, as well.

In addition to his work for the Herald, Marchant can be followed on twitter @BristowatHome

Citizen: Let’s break it down, and we’ll start with the Republicans since they’re up first in South Carolina, and then we’ll talk about the Democrats. With the Republicans, we started with a very large field, and we’ve still got a very large field.

Marchant: …although it has dwindled down.

Citizen: But we’ve got about 12 that are still technically in the race. Without endorsing any candidate, about how many do you think will make it to South Carolina?

Marchant: That’s a good question. You’ll probably see a lot of them start to drop off, if not after Iowa, then New Hampshire. Some of the more moderate ones, the more establishment-type Republicans will try to hang on until New Hampshire, at least, because they seem to think that’s where they’re going to get more momentum. Maybe one of them could emerge as the Anti-Trump and kind of take it from there.  But I think we might be cut down to about five or six by South Carolina.

Citizen: And along those lines, while he started off well, things have not gone well for Jeb Bush on the campaign trail. Even if he performs poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, does Sen. Graham’s endorsement give him the ability to continue on into South Carolina, or does he still have work to do to before he can get here?

Marchant: I think he can kind of hang on, maybe as a second-tier candidate behind Trump and Cruz and maybe Rubio for a while, but I doubt if Graham does that much for him because he (Graham) has kind of got a strained relationship with the conservative movement in South Carolina anyway, and it didn’t seem like he was going to do that well, even if he stayed in the South Carolina primary. His numbers weren’t that much higher than he was seeing nationwide, so I’m not sure how many voters he can deliver over to Jeb.

Jeb is leading the endorsement primary. He certainly seems to have more people lining up behind him in terms of elected officials and party big-wigs, but that doesn’t seem to be helping him to get out of the single digits in most polls.

Citizen: Once again, without endorsing their efforts, which campaigns have you seen have the most aggressive campaigns in South Carolina?

I would say, I think that Trump seems to have the most excitement, at least among the grass roots people. He was just here (in Rock Hill) a few weeks ago, and packed the basketball arena at Winthrop. So he seems to have at least the most excitement along those lines.

I guess as far as organization goes… I’m not too sure about that. I would say Bush (is one of) the guys with the real money and organizational muscle behind them, they have pretty good representation. Rubio is another one. And Cruz. They all have a pretty good amount of representation on the ground, but I’m not sure how much that’s going to translate into votes when it actually comes time to pull the lever.

Citizen: Like you said, we might have five or six candidates make it into South Carolina. How many do you think can make it out?

Marchant: I’d say by the end of February, I’d say most of them may hang on until you get to Super Tuesday, when you’re going to have so many states voting at once. At that point, I think you might see it cut down to about two or three, if not have a nominee settled on by then, depending on whether Trump can rack up a string of wins in all the states he’s leading now. Or maybe someone else can rise up and take one or two from him, but I think by then the race will have narrowed itself down to at least a couple, if not one nominee ready to go into the general.

Citizen: A lot of people have said – and the punditry has been wrong time and time again when it comes to dealing with Trump – but that being said, if he was to start losing front-runner status, could he, by his own decision, fade away? And does that make South Carolina a must-win state for everyone, or are there candidates like Trump that could survive not doing well here?

Marchant: That’s a good point. It depends on how Iowa and New Hampshire play out. You could see Trump turn into Howard Dean, where he leads through the preseason, and then unexpectedly loses Iowa to Ted Cruz and doesn’t have a strong second-place finish, and then all the air just goes out of the balloon, and he just kind of disappears. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would take losing well, so he might not want to hang around if he starts losing elections.

At that point, you could see Trump fall away, Ted Cruz could take the driver’s seat. But if you don’t win South Carolina, I think you’ve at least got to have some kind of a strong performance here to keep the campaign going much longer after that.

Citizen: But is there anybody who can survive a poor showing in South Carolina?

Marchant:  I don’t think so. Not unless your strategy is like John Kasich, where you’re running toward the middle and maybe you want to show, you tout that (a poor South Carolina result) as showing you’re a more moderate candidate.

Citizen: And try to survive all the way to Ohio?

Marchant: (laughs) Yeah. But even after South Carolina, Super Tuesday is called the SEC primary. It’s like all the southern states are voting at once. So, that’s going to be a gauntlet if you don’t have any kind of appeal to the Republican base.

Citizen: Let’s move on to the Democrats and let’s get this out of the way: does O’Malley make it to South Carolina?

Marchant: I don’t know if O’Malley makes it too far past Iowa, because he’s polling at, what, two percent, four percent? I don’t know if he can sustain that through too many primary losses. It doesn’t look like he has much reason to stick it out much longer after that. He might drop out before South Carolina.

Citizen: Yeah, it looks like he needs a miracle showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire to keep going. So, focusing on the two primary candidates then, a lot of people have said, or at least are implying, that South Carolina is the firewall for Hillary. Is that the way you’re seeing it play?

Marchant: That does seem to be how it’s going to play. Bernie seems to have the lead in New Hampshire. Depending on what poll you’re looking at, it’s neck and neck in Iowa. So it looks like Hillary Clinton is going to have to depend on a strong showing in South Carolina, if she doesn’t put him away in those other two states, to kind of shore up her chance at the nomination.

And if looks like she’s got a good chance at that, since most polls have her up by a much more sizeable margin in South Carolina. It’s obviously a majority black electorate in the Democratic primary which would seem to tend favor Hillary. But if Bernie Sanders can win the first two, I can’t think of another candidate that won Iowa and New Hampshire and then didn’t end up winning the nomination (note: there’s not one). If he can do that, then he might end up getting a second look from the voters down here.

Citizen: Like you pointed out, South Carolina has a far larger black electorate than the first two voting states. Because of that, and a lot of people have pointed out Bernie has not done well reaching out to the black constituency. Do you see him trying to do that now in South Carolina?

Marchant: I think he definitely has. When he came through this area (Rock Hill) and when he stopped off in Sumter and other cities around South Carolina. He came here and kind of did a tag team with Cornel West.

After kind of a rocky start, he seems to have reached out to the Black Lives Matter movement and he’s had some of their activists take a very active part in some of his rallies here, so I think that’s a very targeted effort to reach out beyond what seems to be a very white, liberal constituency for Sanders in his effort to branch out further.

Citizen: Comparing it back, the South Carolina Republicans used to always consider themselves kingmakers. If you won South Carolina, you got the nomination. 2008, however, it was the South Carolina Democrats that were the kingmakers when they chose Obama over Hillary. Are South Carolina Democrats in that position again? If they shut down Bernie, is it over for him? And conversely, if Bernie manages to win in South Carolina, does that spell doom for Hillary?

Marchant: I think that’s probably right. Depending on how he does in the first two primaries, if he loses in South Carolina, that could be, if not the end, then the beginning of the end. Because that puts Hillary back on course. He seems to have put all of his energy into those first two states, so she could just put him away here and continue her march to the nomination.

Or, if he could rack up potentially a third win in a row in South Carolina, and especially with South Carolina’s electorate, that could very well seal the deal and could give him the nomination.

Citizen: Well, Bristow, that’s about it because that’s about all I think I can type. Anything else you have coming up?

Marchant: We still have a lot more visits from a lot of candidates between now and the primary. I’m sure it’s going to be a very interesting month between now and then.

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