- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Democratic presidential candidates in South Carolina have a dilemma. The NAACP has declared a tourist boycott of the state, so how do you campaign in the state, honor the boycott and not offend voters some of whom support the boycott, and some who don't?
Several candidates have pledged to stay out of hotels and restaurants when they're in South Carolina for the state's 2004 primary.
Other candidates, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, say enjoying the state's hospitality services is unavoidable.
"[Senator] John Edwards [of North Carolina] has already indicated that his staff does not and will not stay in hotels here," said state NAACP President James Gallman. "And I think that [Rep. Richard A.] Gephardt [of Missouri] and the others will follow suit."
The boycott was imposed in January 2000 to protest the flying of the Confederate flag over the Statehouse. After the flag was removed from the Capitol in July 2000, and placed at a memorial on Statehouse grounds in Columbia, the NAACP, still unappeased, organized the boycott. The NAACP wants the flag out of sight altogether.
All of the Democratic candidates support removal of the flag, but some have stopped short of supporting sanctions.
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, and Mr. Lieberman visited the state over the weekend and said they needed more time to study the issue before deciding how to run campaigns there.
Both men said they would stay in homes of friends and supporters when they visit South Carolina, at least for now.
"To the credit of all of the candidates so far, they have all come out against the flying of the flag on the Statehouse grounds," said state Rep. David J. Mack III, campaign chairman for Mr. Dean. "But when the candidates come down here, they will have to hold some events at hotels and some of the other facilities."
The South Carolina Republican Party, using the opportunity to try to divide the Democratic field, last week posed questions to Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who was born in South Carolina. "Will he or his staff eat at any of our state's fine restaurants?" the Republicans asked. "Will he use hotel and motel space for campaign events?"
It will be difficult for candidates to campaign in the state without spending any tourist dollars, said party spokesman Luke Byars. "How far can they take that boycott?" Mr. Byars said. "Does this mean they aren't going to advertise, because that money goes back into the economy here?"
The boycott has resulted in convention cancellations, and its impact on the state's $17.5 billion tourism industry is disputed $100 million a year, the NAACP says; $20 million, hospitality officials say.
"We understand that there is an issue here," said Dave Zunker, executive director of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It is clearly politics, and if a presidential candidate decides for whatever reason not to use our hotels, that is their choice. But we always say, 'Why take it out on business?'"
During a visit last weekend to South Carolina, Mr. Lieberman told a Columbia newspaper that while he supports removal of the flag from Statehouse grounds, "I don't know how you campaign in a primary in this state and boycott the economy of this state. We've got to rent cars. We're going to use offices. We're going to hold meetings, buy food for meetings."
A spokesman for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said the campaign is "working through the practical concerns of running a campaign there," and that the Democratic senator recognized the issue was important to many South Carolinians.
Along with Mr. Edwards, New York activist Al Sharpton has said he will heed the boycott. Both said, though, that some money will have to be spent in the state. "We'll have to run a campaign," an Edwards campaign worker said. "We will have offices there."
The primary, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 3, 2004, will be the first contest in which there will be a substantial black vote.
Blacks are expected to make up between 40 percent and 50 percent of the vote. Some say it could go higher. Mr. Sharpton, say some observers, could win with a divided field.
"We have our local coordinators talking with the NAACP about what constitutes a violation of the boycott, so we haven't made a final decision," Mr. Sharpton said. "I do know that people who live in the state have to go out and buy groceries and such. So I need to know the specifics of the boycott."
President Bush campaigned in South Carolina with no mention of the boycott, and he is expected to do so again.
Some Democrats, in fact, have stayed at hotels in the state this month, said Tom Sponseller, president of the Hospitality Association of South Carolina.
"And if they are serious about South Carolina, they will have to spend time here. If they can stay at homes, that's fine, but they sure won't be able to campaign here from a distance," he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide