In the 2000 race for the Republican nomination, George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses, but John McCain won the New Hampshire primary soon after. All eyes turned towards South Carolina for one obvious reason: the winner of the third contest would be well positioned for the road ahead.
But in the lead-up to the primary, South Carolinians saw one of the ugliest dirty tricks in modern presidential history. Bush supporters launched rumors targeting McCain’s adopted daughter, with fake pollsters calling voters to ask, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?”
It may be the most awful example, but it’s not the only one to come out of South Carolina. Politico reported this morning that locals are getting ready for what’s likely to come.
In the run-up to their big presidential campaign moments, the big media players in Iowa and New Hampshire gave voters a useful online feature, an interactive calendar that let them track where candidates were appearing in person.Down in South Carolina, it’s different. The interactive site du jour launched last week is the Charleston Post and Courier’s ‘Whisper Campaign” – a digital tool that begs the public to help keep tabs on the coming blizzard of dirty tricks.
Yes, the Post and Courier is not only expecting dirty tricks, it’s also created this website to encourage South Carolinians to “submit examples of questionable campaign activity.”
And while we don’t yet know whether dirty tricks will be part of the 2016 cycle, it’s worth watching one campaign in particular.
BuzzFeed reported back in October on Marco Rubio hiring South Carolinian “knife fighters.”
The leading pro-Rubio super PAC is headed by Warren Tompkins, an infamous South Carolina operative who was widely suspected of orchestrating a whisper campaign during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries to convince voters that John McCain was hiding a black love child.And in a more recent episode that could have lasting political repercussions in next year’s primaries, Rubio’s chief digital strategist, Wesley Donehue, is said to have actively hyped unsubstantiated rumors in 2010 that Nikki Haley had an affair with a local South Carolina blogger.
Watch this space.