There’s an old adage that all politics is local, and Sumter County Democratic Party chairman Allen Bailey has been intimately familiar with that for several years now. Named local party chairman four years ago, the local owner of CA Harler Trophies was active in several campaigns – of the local, state and national varieties – well before assuming his leadership position.
In this interview, conducted the day before the Iowa caucuses, we get Bailey’s thoughts on the developments in his party’s presidential primary, as well as his take into what might be developing in the local races set for the general election.
Citizen: Let’s start with this: You have announced that you plan on seeking another term as party chair. You and I both know that can be quite time consuming. So what led you to determine to do that?
Bailey: I just love it. Ever since I’ve been involved in the Democratic Party, I’ve enjoyed what I believe the party stands for, and the people that are involved. They’ve pushed me to the front as a leader, and I just love it. I feel that in Sumter County we do a little bit more than in the other counties, we try to make a difference in the community, and that’s what keeps me going.
Citizen: All right, that’s fair enough. So why don’t we start with the national and statewide scene, and then we’ll talk locally. On the national scene, we have a situation much like we did in 2008 in the sense that we don’t have an incumbent running and we don’t have a vice-president running, so it’s kind of an open field on both ends of the equation. What direction do you see the Sumter Dems leaning right now?
Bailey: You know, it’s a tough feel because I think the base of our party seems to be trending Hillary, but I see a lot of newcomers – a lot of newcomers, and they’re strong Bernie. Very strong Bernie.
Citizen: Well, along those lines, is it similar to ’08 when we had a lot of newcomers that jumped on the Obama bandwagon?
Bailey: It is. Well, it’s similar and it’s different. The difference that I see is in demographics, because Obama had the African-American vote, and when I work in the same communities that I worked in for Obama and I ask about Bernie or about Hillary, they don’t have any idea who Bernie is. I mean, the average voter, either African-American or non-seasoned voter, they don’t know about Bernie Sanders. So I would say Hillary has a slight advantage in that regard.
Citizen: Looking at that, when we talk about working in Sumter County, now Sumter isn’t the largest metropolitan area, but it is a metropolitan area. And, at the same time, Sumter has a tendency, if you look at past results, it goes about eight-to-ten percentage points Democrat. In other words, if there’s a 50-50 race in the state, the Democrat – if you can take all the personal qualities out of the way – usually gets about 54 to 55 percent of the vote. Now, obviously campaigning will change that. If you’ve got a bad Democratic candidate, they’ll do worse. If you’ve got a good Democratic candidate they’ll do better. But, with that in mind, what kind of feeling are you getting from the national campaigns reaching out to Sumter County?
Bailey: I’m getting hit (laughs) by both Bernie and by Hillary. Both of them, in fact, I’ve had volunteers for both of them working out of my trophy shop yesterday; one in the back and one in the front. So, they’re hitting Sumter heavy. And, like I said, Hillary has the name recognition, but Bernie’s being introduced a lot. That’s where his disadvantage is, that I’m seeing, in Sumter County.
Citizen: He’s already been here once before. Are you expecting him back before the primary?
Bailey: I’m shooting to get all of them back. I’ve got contacts with all of the campaigns, and they’re just trying to make things work out that make sense. But I really do. I expect all of them to stop by Sumter.
Citizen: Does O’Malley have any kind of support around here at all?
Bailey: You know what, no. I don’t know very many around here. In fact, I’ve been trying to help them with that, because I really like Martin O’Malley. I think he’s a great candidate. In fact, in a lot of ways I think he’s been very underestimated and under…he’s just been in the shadows. Which means he really needs to be out there, especially in a town like Sumter. He doesn’t have a military tie, which may be why he doesn’t trend well in this area. I’m not exactly sure.
Citizen: Let’s go ahead and throw this out there: do you think he’s going to make it to South Carolina?
Citizen: Along those lines, then, the Iowa caucuses are a lot different, because on the Democratic side you have viability limits. You have to have at least 15 percent support in the precinct. If you don’t have that, those voters than have to decide on another candidate. That, or just leave.
Bailey: That’s right. And Martin O’Malley is making some headway, so it depends on what happens there. He may have a good enough ground game there, and maybe that’s why I haven’t seen his ground game here. Maybe they’re just focusing on one stop at a time. He doesn’t have, obviously, the money resources, so he has to be a little more practical and focused. So if he does well enough in Iowa, he may just end up coming down here to South Carolina a little bit stronger. I might have said that a little too strong and quick.
Citizen: The way it’s looking right now, Hillary may pull out a small win in Iowa, but we’re not sure. It looks like Sanders is leading in New Hampshire. Is South Carolina once again going to be the kingmaker for Democrats?
Bailey: I hear ya. That’s what we’re looking at. I think the difference, and I like all the candidates, I’m not trying to be super-political here, because I don’t have aspirations for office other than chairman. In order, I like Bernie, Hillary and O’Malley. That’s the order of who I like the best. And I know all the negatives, I look through all that, because they all have similar things aimed at them, but my biggest complaint about Hillary is that I think our country is bigger than two names: Bush and Clinton. It’s just the centralization of power in the two family names, I don’t like that. Other than that, I think she’s fully qualified. I’m willing to support them all avidly, and I will.
But I think, to get back to the point, Hillary has the edge. I think Bill Clinton was very popular among the African-American community in South Carolina, and I think Hillary gets a lot of that automatically. I think Bernie’s just got a long way to go.
Citizen: Let’s look at the local situation then, because while everyone is focusing on the Presidential campaign, it’s only about six weeks until our local races start to file.
Bailey: That’s right.
Citizen: Four years ago, I think it’s fair to say the local Democrats had more than a few contested primaries. Are you seeing that happen again? What kind of feelers are people putting out there?
Bailey: I know there’s going to be contested races in the coroner’s race, county council – Naomi Sanders’ district – there’s a lot of activity there. I think the sheriff is going to have a little bit of opposition. (laughs) A little bit might be the key word there. And I think Vivian is going to have some Democratic opposition. I haven’t heard that officially, but people are telling me all kinds of things.
Locally, those are all the things I’ve heard. I haven’t heard of any opposition on either side for Thomas McElveen or David Weeks. David rarely has any opposition. Kevin Johnson…
Citizen: Let’s put this out there: In no way, shape or form labeling Kevin’s performance positively or negatively, when all is said and done, the demographics show that even though Kevin is from Manning, there are more voters (in that district) in Sumter County than in Clarendon County.
Bailey: That’s exactly right.
Citizen: So, does he possibly face some opposition on this side of the district?
Bailey: I don’t know of anybody. Everyone that I know of, different names of people that have the potential to run, they all like Kevin. And I haven’t heard of anybody that was thinking otherwise. I’ve heard different rumors on the Republican side, but anything can happen. We’ll see.