What is it with politicians and the "e" word?
We're talking about "endorsement," that seemingly innocuous process where you say publicly who you support in an election. These days, the trend is for politicians to say glowing things about each other -- but to go out of their way to say it is NOT an endorsement.
The latest example came Thursday night. New Year's Day, when most of the state was watching the Gamecocks beat Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, a group called the S.C. Conservative Action Alliance ran this ad at the beginning of the fourth quarter:
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Most people -- including the website Real Clear Politics -- interpreted this as an endorsement. But Thursday night, Huckabee wrote on his website that he did NOT endorse Graham:
This is not the first time this has happened to Graham. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said she was "very grateful" for Graham, but made it clear she was not endorsing him. Fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also declined to endorse Graham.
This hesitancy extends beyond politicians. When Rick Perry made his first campaign stop in South Carolina in the months before the 2012 Republican presidential primary, super GOP fundraiser Eddie Floyd introduced him as "the next president of the United States." But in an interview with a reporter later, Floyd went out of his way to say he did not endorse Perry.
Scott Huffmon, a political science professor and pollster at Winthrop University, said politicians don't like to formally endorse because it’s too risky, especially in an election year.
"You just can't afford to annoy any part of your base," Huffmon said. "Them not endorsing makes perfect sense. I don't think it's a slight on Lindsey Graham."
But Huckabee is not a formal candidate for public office, but he is rumored to be a 2016 Republican candidate for president. A recent poll showed he was the frontrunner among S.C. voters -- who have one of the earliest primaries in the country. But Huckabee hosts a show on Fox News watched by lots of conservative Republicans.
"So he doesn't want to alienate his viewing and listening constituency," Huffmon said. "It's really about preserving constituencies or at least giving them enough of a lifeline so they can hang on to you."