Candidates campaigning in South Carolina’s presidential primaries this month must navigate an economic landscape strewn with pitfalls.
With extremes of wealth and poverty, South Carolina lifted its post-industrial fortunes by opposing organized labor favored by Democrats and practicing what Tea Party Republicans call crony capitalism, opening the public wallet to lure big business. The resulting manufacturing renaissance included a 8,100-job Boeing Co. factory in North Charleston, a BMW AG plant that was the birthplace of the Southern auto industry and a flourishing tire industry that followed Michelin & Cie.’s initial investment in the state more than three decades ago.
Candidates of both parties have taken positions in conflict with facts on the ground and must tread lightly, said Lewis Gossett, chief executive officer of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance in Columbia.
“If I heard my opponent start saying bad things about crony capitalism, I’d just say ‘You, in Greenville, was BMW worth it?” he said. “Was Boeing worth it in Charleston? Was Michelin?”
Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, jockeying for labor’s support, will find themselves in state that’s attracted tens of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs by boasting of its anti-union climate. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has railed against corporate welfare, though Boeing got as much as $900 million in state and local incentives to expand there in 2009, according to some estimates.
Republicans head to voting booths Saturday as real-estate mogul Donald Trump leads in the polls; Democrats vote one week later. South Carolina can be a make-or-break primary for candidates who struggled in Iowa and New Hampshire. And, unlike those states, South Carolina’s electorate is racially and culturally diverse.
Eight military bases prop up local economies, helping South Carolina rank 22nd in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States since the end of the recession in June 2009. The state’s coast and low taxes have lured retirees and transplants, a rich and unpredictable trove of voters.
“You’ve got retirees from Ohio living in Hilton Head Island, who, you know, may not feel the same on social issues as somebody living in the Upstate,” Republican U.S. Representative Mark Sanford of Charleston said Saturday.
The Palmetto State ranks 10th nationally for population gains since the 2010 census. Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, said the changing demographics can be jarring.