SPARTANBURG, S.C., Feb. 10, 2016 — Now that New Hampshire has had its quadrennial moment in the sun, South Carolina is getting red hot. With 11 days to convince Palmetto State voters to hire them, the candidates made sure the first day in South Carolina was action-packed.
Missing were Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race. They performed poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire and saw the handwriting on the wall.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore received precisely 12 votes in Iowa and six in New Hampshire—actual votes, not percentages. Yet he remains in the race. He scheduled a Wednesday event at the Beacon in Spartanburg, at the same time Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was speaking one mile away at the Marriott.
Gilmore did not bother to show up at his event. There was no explanation for his absence.
The Beacon is a burger restaurant that is famous in Spartanburg. Presidential candidates of both parties have been going there to speak for decades. The serving portions are gigantic, and there is enough seating for an army. Owner Steve Duncan is known as one of those guys that every candidate must visit. Standing him up is not wise.
Glenn Beck will be at the Beacon on Friday to make the case for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz..
Rubio came on strong for a crowd of several hundred, with a theme of new beginnings and fresh starts. His performance on Tuesday and Wednesday was smart. He took the blame for his disappointing New Hampshire primary showing and admitted that his last debate performance hurt him. He vowed that this “will never happen again.”
Rubio was joined by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy. Rubio’s opponents will downplay his newest endorsements, but everyone else seemed impressed. Gowdy and Scott are both rock stars in South Carolina.
Rubio put up a powerful defense of America and a withering assault on Obama leftism. He also reasserted Second Amendment rights and ending government intrusion in education.
Rubio spoke passionately about helping the hungry and the homeless. He also took pride in his fight against the Affordable Care Act. “We wiped out the bailout fund that is in Obamacare.” The ACA had $2 billion earmarked to bail out insurance companies. That funding has been stripped away.
Turning to foreign policy and national security, he observed, “You know what’s good for America, keeping ISIS out of America is good for America.” He touched on problems with North Korea, Iran and Israel, saying “We’re on Israel’s side. They’re our ally.”
As for terrorists, “They’re not going to get a lawyer.” Also, “They’re not going to be told they have a right to remain silent.” They will not be in a Manhattan courtroom.
Rubio then got deeply personal. “Are we going to be the country that changed the lives of my family? Or are we going to be just another country like the rest of the world? We can be greater than we’ve ever been.”
While Rubio had some of his children on stage with him, Ted Cruz deployed his whole family around the state. A few blocks from where Rubio spoke, Ted’s wife Heidi held court. She offered the lighter side of Ted.
She was preceded by the Benham Brothers in an event that was clearly designed to appeal to evangelicals. Very little of it was focused on politics or policy. She spoke instead about their religiosity. She described Ted’s softer side in lighthearted anecdotes. She elicited chuckles when she revealed that her husband calls her on the phone and sings, “I just called to say I love you.” He is a better politician than a singer.
Businessman Donald Trump continues to hold packed events. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is bringing in the biggest of the big guns, with former President George W. Bush expected to campaign with him. The former president remains beloved in South Carolina. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is languishing in the polls, continues to hold smaller events that are difficult to attend. His security detail is tight, and notices of events selling out are mainly due to their being held in relatively small venues.
The only candidate who seems to have written off winning South Carolina is Ohio Gov. John Kasich. His campaign will deny this, but they are skipping a pair of major South Carolina presidential forums on Feb. 15 and 16 to campaign in Michigan.