South Carolina Democrats: Swear no more

By MARIE HORRIGAN  |  Feb. 2, 2004 at 9:38 PM
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COLUMBIA, S.C., Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The South Carolina Democratic Party went into damage control mode Monday following reports that some state voters were so angry about the requirement they sign an oath stating their party allegiance that they were considering not voting in Tuesday's presidential primary.

The SCDP had news conferences, made conference calls, conferred with the candidates and the national Democratic Party before issuing a statement Monday afternoon that voters no longer would have to sign the pledge, "I consider myself to be a Democrat," before they could cast their ballots.

They dropped the plan Monday, the party announced, after receiving approval from the national Democratic Party. State party operatives then worked to spin the controversy into a partisan issue.

"Our Democratic candidates for president have campaigned hard here in South Carolina and made our state and our country proud with their visionary leadership and positive policies to grow our economy and create jobs," state party Chairman Joe Erwin said in the statement.

"It is no wonder that Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans want to vote in the Democratic primary. They are welcome with open arms. And now there is nothing to discourage South Carolina voters from participating."

The controversy stemmed largely from reporting by Lee Bandy, a political columnist for South Carolina's The State newspaper, that many members of the electorate thought it "dumb" they would have to sign the pledge.

Bandy sited numerous consultants and politicos -- both Democrats and members of the GOP -- who strongly criticized the idea.

"'It sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I've heard in a long time,' said Rice University political scientist Earl Black, formerly of the University of South Carolina," Bandy wrote Monday.

Bandy maintains his article, and one written Sunday by colleague Jennifer Talhelm, brought the plan to the public and "touched off a firestorm," with displeased voters flooding the party's Columbia headquarters with calls about the issue.

However, Don Fowler, a South Carolina native and former head of the national Democratic Party, told United Press International he thought this issue was trumped up by Bandy and the newspaper, which trends Republican. South Carolina's pledge follows the same process used in New Hampshire during its Jan. 27 primary, although that did not receive widespread response. The pledge also has been part of South Carolina's voting process since 1976, the SCDP pointed out in its news release, to ensure no one voted in more than one primary on the same day.

Fowler charges that the newspaper "is trying to disrupt this (primary) process.

"They're as bad in print as Fox News is in television," he charged.

But Bandy maintains the party's decision was based on the overwhelming response to the idea. The plan "touched off a firestorm," he said.

Bandy found himself flooded with calls and e-mail when he got to work this morning, he said. One call, he said, was from Dick Harpootlian, the former head of the state's Democratic Party. "Harpootlian called and cussed me out -- in friendly terms. He said, 'I haven't answered my phone all day with all the called from people (ticked) off about the loyalty oath.'"

Bandy said it was not his story that set of the firestorm. Talhelm had written about the pledge Sunday. "(Voters) had already read that story and they were hot about it, hot about the pledge," Bandy said.

"This is a new day," he later added. "South Carolinians are really independent-minded ... they like to do their own thing."

The SCDP was not available for comment.

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