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Election 2008: South Carolina GOP Gets Ready to Vote

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Katon Dawson
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman
Friday, January 18, 2008; 12:00 PM

South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson was online Friday, Jan. 18 at noon ET to take readers' questions about Saturday's GOP primary in his state and how things are shaping up there for the 2008 election.

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The transcript follows.

Dawson, president/general manager of family-owned Burns Auto Parts, Inc., was elected South Carolina GOP chairman in spring 2002 and unanimously re-elected in 2004 and 2006.

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Washington: What are your predictions for tomorrow's South Carolina primary?

Katon Dawson: Tomorrow, South Carolina Republicans will go to the polls to cast votes in the first truly make-or-break primary contest of the year. As we all have seen, the field is wide open. There are several candidates with reason to be confident heading into tomorrow.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why is Romney ditching South Carolina for Nevada?

Katon Dawson: Gov. Romney has a strong team here in South Carolina -- a team he's had on the ground for more than one year. He continues to compete here in South Carolina.

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Washington: You guys have been working very hard for tomorrow's primary. What will you do with your time come Monday morning?

Katon Dawson: We have indeed been working hard here in South Carolina to ensure we remain First-in-the-South because our voters have a 28 year history of being right when it comes to picking presidents. As soon as Republicans have a nominee for president, we look forward to campaigning with him in South Carolina.

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washingtonpost.com: Do you feel that the penalty imposed by the Republican National Committee on Michigan was sufficient? Do you feel that having several states leap-frog Virginia on the Republican side may have diminished your state's importance in the nominating process?

Katon Dawson: I am proud to say South Carolina is more important than ever in the presidential nominating process. Candidates recognized this early on, and they have spent more time than ever campaigning across our state -- shaking our hands and looking us square in the eye to ask for our votes.

We plan to pursue any avenue necessary to have all of our delegates seated at the Republican National Convention in September.

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Sumter, S.C.: What makes our state different from other primary states?

Katon Dawson: We have been extremely excited to host our First-in-the-South Republican Presidential Primary -- and this time, the stakes are even higher. In South Carolina, unlike many of the so-called Super Tuesday states where voters haven't even seen a bumper sticker or yard sign, we have welcomed all Republican presidential candidates into our living rooms, into our restaurants, into our daily lives.

Picking presidents is about much more than 30-second sound bites here. All the candidates have campaigned hard across our state because they know they must shake our hands and look us square in the eye if they want our votes.

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Yonkers, N.Y.: I am not one of those New York chauvinists who look down on everyone who lives on the other side of the Hudson River, so please don't misunderstand this question: what is it about the voters in South Carolina that makes them so susceptible to slanderous attacks in political campaigns? Or is it that they really aren't that susceptible; it's just that the political tactics historically are slimier?

I realize that Yonkers, N.Y., has nothing to brag about either, in this context! And liberal New York had a mayoral race only 30 years ago that featured the slogan "Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo" (Koch). South Carolina just seems to have normalized this stuff. Or is it just reported more?

Katon Dawson: You know, that's a fair question. We have a long history of spirited and tough political campaigning in our state, but we also have a long history of being right when it comes to picking presidents. From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, the candidate who has won over our voters has been propelled to the presidency. I think our record of picking presidents overshadows any sort of story overhyped about "dirty tricks."

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Menomonie, Wis.: Good morning. Do you think the media should give more coverage to those candidates who poll low? The reason the media gives is that candidates who poll low are not worthy of coverage, but how can they poll higher unless the public gets to know them, and if the only way the public can get to know them is through the media? Do you believe the media and not the people pick the candidates, regardless of party?

Katon Dawson: Here in South Carolina, more than ever before, journalists from across the country and across the world, have focused on our First-in-the-South Republican Presidential Primary -- and that has afforded the candidates on our ballot the chance to be heard. Moreover, with the explosive growth of new media -- from blogs to podcasts to YouTube -- candidates have had limitless opportunities to get their messages out.

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West Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina bucked the national trend in 2006 by having a successful cycle -- how did you do it?

Katon Dawson: That's a great question, and it's certainly something we are proud of. When I became chairman here in South Carolina -- which is a strictly volunteer position I took on in addition to managing my auto parts business -- my goal was to expand the conservative foothold great leaders like Carroll Campbell and Strom Thurmond had established in our State. I wanted to grow our party, strengthen county and local Republican organizations, expand our grassroots network and kick-start our fundraising. I believe we have a record of accomplishment.

Last year, Republicans lost their way in Washington and across the country, but here in South Carolina we stuck to the conservative principles of limited government -- based on lower taxes and fiscal discipline -- and traditional values that have made our party and our country great. In the toughest of political environments, we re-elected our Republican governor Mark Sanford in a landslide. Even more, we won eight of nine statewide constitutional offices. We will not let up in 2008, and I believe we will build on this success.

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Washington: With all the appearances, debates and attacks made by the GOP candidates, has it been hard to stay objective in your role as South Carolina GOP chair?

Katon Dawson: This is a great question, and I have been honored to meet all of our candidates and their families as they have campaigned across our state. We have such a strong field. I have remained focused on giving our Republican voters the opportunity to decide for themselves who the best candidate will be to take on Democrats in November.

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Charleston, S.C.: Sir, what are your thoughts on the South Carolina Democratic race and do you believe the leading Democratic candidates have the best interests of South Carolinians as a whole at the forefront of their campaigns?

Katon Dawson: The Democrats in the early primary states certainly have proven themselves to have taken a sharp turn to the left in 2008. The radically liberal candidates on the Democratic side have all promised to raise our taxes, turn our health care system over to Washington insiders and surrender to the terrorists in the Middle East. Regardless of who the Democrats pick, their nominee will follow in the footsteps of history's forgettable footnotes like Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry to landslide defeat in South Carolina.

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Greenville, S.C.: Some people are saying that Florida is more of a "make-or-break" state than South Carolina this year. What would you say makes South Carolina more of a must-win state?

Katon Dawson: I know many of the pundits have made a big deal about Florida's early role, but Florida is new to presidential primary politics. It's tough to make any predictions with respect to any impact they may have this year. I can tell you, however, that all eyes are focused on South Carolina -- and rightfully so. We have a history in South Carolina of being right when it comes to picking presidents, and this year will be no different. The candidates have spent more than one year campaigning in our state because they know they must win over our voters.

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Washington: With the Democrats' primary a few days after yours, do you think we'll see more attention focused on their campaigns in South Carolina? Also, if race rears its head on the trail again, do you expect Rep. Clyburn to stay silent? Thank you.

Katon Dawson: Absolutely not. The eyes of the world have been focused on our Republican primary here, and we are the story in national politics. The Democrats will have their chance to shine next week, and I know our good friend Carol Fowler will be proud.

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Niles, Mich.: With the pols running neck and neck, what will the deciding factor be?

Katon Dawson: I believe the deciding factor could be turnout. The candidate who turns out the most supporters tomorrow will be on solid ground when it comes time to count votes.

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Katon Dawson: I would like to thank everyone who submitted questions today. The stakes couldn't be higher tomorrow.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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