Election 2012

5 former SC governors speak out on November election

ashain@thestate.comOctober 14, 2012 

  • S.C. governors on the election What the Palmetto State’s former chief executives had to say about the Nov. 6 presidential election Parents fear for their children’s future “People are not feeling like their kids are going to do better. That is jet fuel, that kind of discontent.” Republican Mark Sanford , governor from 2003-11, on the challenge facing President Barack Obama , a Democrat Romney unable to connect? “I have never seen a presidential candidate with such an inability to connect with average voters on any level. He’s good with numbers, not good with people.” Democrat Jim Hodges , governor from 1999-2003, on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney Polls inaccurate? “There have been more false polls this year because no one wants to be seen as narrow-minded. I think we all wanted to seem broad-minded and say we will vote for the minority.” Republican James Edwards , governor from 1975-79, on why polls have favored Obama for much of the year Voters tired of Washington politics “People are tired with Washington and with the leadership of the parties expecting their people to vote right down the (party) line. It’s not a formula for good democracy.” Democrat Dick Riley , governor from 1979-87, on the frustration of many voters On South Carolina vanishing from the national political radar “We’re king of the hill in the spring and, at Halloween, it’s like a ghost.” Republican David Beasley , governor from 1995-99, on the attention that South Carolina receives during the primary season, when it is an early-voting state, and in the fall, when it is conceded quickly to the GOP nominee

Former Gov. Mark Sanford thinks President Barack Obama has a problem in next month’s election.

“The ground is fertile for knocking off an incumbent,” the Republican said. “People are not feeling like their kids are going to do better (than they have done).

“That is jet fuel, that kind of discontent.”

Former Gov. Jim Hodges thinks voters ought to give fellow Democrat Obama more time to fix “the toughest set of issues for a president since FDR.”

Like many South Carolinians, the former Palmetto State chief executives have watched the months-long presidential campaign. At one point, during the January primary, that campaign consumed the state. Now, as it enters its final 23 days, the campaign is being waged elsewhere, in battleground states – the closest being North Carolina – that will decide the Nov. 6 election.

Five of the six living former S.C. governors shared their thoughts with The State about the race between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

(Democrat Fritz Hollings, who was governor from 1959-63 before becoming a U.S. senator, declined an interview. The 90-year-old said he wants to keep everyone happy – regardless of their political party – while he is raising money for a cancer center at the Medical University of South Carolina that bears his name.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the former governors – two Democrats and three Republicans, who were interviewed before the first presidential debate – favor the candidates of their parties.

But, regardless of their party, their comments reflected the frustrations of many of their fellow South Carolinians, who are dismayed by the stagnant economy and hyper-partisan Washington politics.

“It’s not a formula for good democracy,” said Democrat Dick Riley, who was governor from 1979-87 before going on to become U.S. secretary of education during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Goodwill exhausted?

Republican James Edwards, who led the state from 1975-79 and later was secretary of the U.S. Energy Department under President Ronald Reagan, thinks the goodwill that President Obama won, as the country’s first African-American presidential nominee and president, has been exhausted by the lingering poor economy.

As a result, Edwards doesn’t believe many of the presidential polls this year.

“There have been more false polls this year because no one wants to be seen as narrow-minded,” said Edwards, 85. “We all wanted to seem broad-minded and say we will vote for the minority.

“But when voters get in the booth and look at (the candidates’) ability and background – with the best possible track record to lead us out of this morass – they will vote for Romney.”

Hodges, who was governor from 1993-2003, doesn’t think voters were considering race four years ago or will now.

“By and large, people focus on what they think a candidate represents,” said Hodges, 55. “It’s how they feel about their lives and who they think will do a better job of addressing the problems.”

Like most voters, the former governors agree the economy is the top issue, especially in South Carolina, which has one of the nation’s highest jobless rates.

Republican David Beasley, who was governor from 1995-99, is surprised Obama has fared as well as he has thus far against Romney.

“It is absolutely a phenomena that – with the promise of hope and change, the way the economy is and international affairs in the shape that it’s in – he’s been ahead in polls,” the 55-year-old Beasley said of the Democratic incumbent. “Even if the polls are tied, it’s an amazing thing to me.”

Most ‘ambivalent’ about foreign affairs?

Beasley, who spends much of the year travelling to other countries on peace and reconciliation missions, thinks whomever lives in the White House over the next four years will have to repair America’s image overseas.

But Hodges touts Obama’s on-the-job experience in foreign affairs.

Hodges said his travels have caused him to realize that “this is a much more competitive world” that requires the experience of someone who has dealt with security issues before.

Despite rising questions about unrest in the Middle East, Sanford, 52, thinks voters will cast their ballots based on their wallets.

“Is what’s happening (overseas) a real problem? Yes,” said Sanford, governor from 2003-2011. “But, at the end of day, you have to narrowly focus on what’s important to voters. Most people are fairly ambivalent” about foreign affairs.

‘Give us hope’

Democrat Riley thinks Obama still has a chance to accomplish a great deal as president, but he is disappointed in the schisms that have developed in Washington, which Riley blames for halting progress on key issues.

“People are tired with Washington and with the leadership of the parties expecting their people to vote right down the (party) line,” said Riley, 79.

Still, the former governors retain their party loyalties.

Edwards backed Romney in the 2008 GOP presidential primary but did not formally endorse anyone in 2012, telling Time magazine that he liked former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania because he doesn’t change positions and was a “true conservative.”

“I still liked Romney,” Edwards said. “I decided to stay out of that this second time around.”

Edwards says he has no questions about Romney now. “Six months in (office), he would give us hope and we would be exceptionally happy to have picked him as president.”

In particular, Edwards sees Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential running mate as demonstrating Romney’s conservatism.

“Ryan is a good salesman. He’s a better a salesman than Romney,” Edwards said. “He brought enthusiasm to the campaign.”

‘The campaign perishes’

But Romney has some issues to shore up, the governors say.

Sanford thinks Romney needs to share more about his plans. “Not being specific is not to talk about it.”

Sanford also thinks Romney needs to make a case that the country is “at a tipping point” if it is to maintain “the American dream.”

“I’m not sure that case has not been made forcefully enough,” said Sanford, who has been working as a Fox News commentator. “It’s been too much poll driven. Just like the Bible says, ‘With no vision, the people perish.’ Well, with no vision, the campaign perishes.”

Hodges sees Romney as having a more fundamental problem: He can’t relate to everyday Americans.

Speaking before the first presidential debate, Hodges said he had “never seen a presidential candidate with such an inability to connect with average voters on any level (as Romney). He’s good with numbers, not good with people.”

Hodges said Obama – like most Democrats – needs to stay on focused on a couple of issues: economic improvement and education. “They have had problems straying from those issues.”

The key for both campaigns is convincing the middle class to vote for their candidate, Hodges said. The winner will have do the best job of “empathizing with their positions,” he said.

Edwards hopes voters also will take into account Romney’s success in running the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

“I wish he had blown his own horn more,” Edwards said. “He has helped so many people over the years. He’s not one of these people to say, ‘Look me, look at me.’ ”

When that “look-at-me” attention has been focused on Romney, too often it has been because of gaffes – such as his comments about foreign allies – that slowed his campaign before his opening-debate victory.

“What has hurt him has been self-inflicted,” Beasley said of Romney.

Still, the focus of the race is narrowing.

The winner likely will be decided in 500 to 600 precincts in six to eight battleground states, Beasley predicts, adding, “This is still winnable” for Romney.

‘We fired the first shot before’

That focus on battleground states leaves out South Carolina, which basked in international attention during the state’s January primary.

“We’re king of the hill in the spring and, at Halloween, it’s like a ghost,” Beasley jokes.

South Carolina’s early primary puts the state in the spotlight, but its solidly Republican voting record sends candidates elsewhere for the general election.

“We had our moment in the sun and it’s passed,” said Sanford.

The former governors don’t see the balance of political power shifting anytime soon in South Carolina.

But Riley worries the state’s new voter ID law could confuse voters. “I think it will hurt turnout.”

Riley also is tired of voters casting straight-party tickets – pushing a button to vote for every Democratic or Republican candidate.

“They’re voting for the guy who’s less qualified. We see that time and time and time again in South Carolina,” the former Democratic governor said. “We’re an independent state. I wish we would get back to the point where they vote independently.”

Republican Beasley said it is possible that changes in voting patterns could be on the horizon, in part stemming from last spring’s state Supreme Court decision that ousted more than 250 challengers from the ballot over a paperwork issue.

“It starts adding up in their (voters’) minds in South Carolina,” he said.

“You know we fired the first shot before.”

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