Personal Touch at Heart of S.C. Vote

The key to winning an election in South Carolina is not unlike the old shampoo commercial. "And they told two friends, and they told two friends..."

It's called grassroots campaigning -- reaching people where they live and spreading the word through the groups of people they trust and respect.

Local events fight to draw crowds here, further enhancing the word-of-mouth power in the community.

"It makes a candidate look good when he or she shows up at events and there's a good audience who knows the history of the candidate and supports them," says Dr. Laura Woliver, professor of political science at the University of South Carolina and author of "From Outrage to Action: The Politics of Grass-Roots Dissent."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is relying on grassroots support out of necessity. His campaign lacks the organizational apparatus or funds to saturate the TV market with ads. So he is relying on supporters to woo additional votes in their own communities, such as home schooling families and evangelical Christians.

Jonathan Hill, a 22-year-old South Carolinian who was home-schooled as a child and has never been involved in politics before this year, left his part-time computer technician job this month to wave signs, make phone calls and galvanize ground support for Huckabee.

"A lot of what I'm doing is out of my comfort zone, but I'm doing it because I feel so strongly about Mike Huckabee that I almost can't help it," said Hill, the eldest of six children who were all home schooled. Several other members of his family are also working the Huckabee phone banks this week.

"We had heard Huckabee's name at a conference through our home school organization where we picked up his book 'Character Is the Issue: How People With Integrity Can Revolutionize America.' We got so excited because we felt for the first time ever that we could really support our heart and soul and that we agreed with him 100 percent. We were so impressed with his character," Hill said.

McCain's Military Support

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a veteran himself and vocal supporter of the troops and the war in Iraq, is counting on military families and veterans to come out to vote for him in South Carolina.

"Sen. McCain has a unique advantage over the other major candidates in the field because he is a vet and a war hero," said B.J. Bowling, McCain's South Carolina communications director.

Fort Jackson, located in Columbia, S.C., is one of the largest Army training facilities in the country. Because of its location in a coastal area, Columbia also attracts both retirees and veterans that once trained at the facility.

The McCain campaign has reached out to many of these military families by direct mailings that highlight the senator's military record and his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The campaign has also conducted veteran tours throughout the state.

"We've got former POWs who are campaigning at VFW's across the state on behalf of Sen. McCain during the last several weeks," Bowling said.

"Grassroots politics in South Carolina or in places as far away as California is all about leg work, it's about getting on the phones, it's about telling people one-on-one that John McCain is the one man ready to lead from day one," Bowling said.

Clinton's Outreach to Women

Emily Malcolm, co-chair of Clinton's campaign and president of EMILY's List, the progressive group that strives to elect supporters of abortion rights and Democratic women to public office, has been a key supporter for Hillary Clinton.

Malcolm and her organization have been active in South Carolina especially in recent weeks. Friday she attended an intimate Columbia tea party to talk to women about Clinton and how to spread support for her to other women.

Jane Emerson, who hosted the gathering in Columbia, focused on the importance of reassuring women they can cast a ballot for a female president.

"I think women sometimes need permission to vote for another woman and especially in South Carolina, where we haven't had a lot of women put their hat in the ring, people need to be made aware that it is OK, and they get that from other women," Emerson said.

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first black woman from Ohio to be elected to Congress, is in South Carolina this week campaigning for Clinton.

Jones told women in South Carolina to campaign for Clinton by simply reaching out to close friends, fellow PTA members, putting up a yard signs to make a statement to your neighbors.

"My other favorite place to campaign is the grocery store. Have your Hillary buttons on and you just meander your way through the store," Jones said. "Get your crew and go, go at the height of the day."

Battle for Black Voters

The black vote is being hotly contested, especially in the Democratic primary to be held Saturday, Jan. 26 in South Carolina, where an estimated 50 percent of Democratic voters are black.

"Hillary spoke at my church and I had about three or four friends who were kind of straddling and once they heard her speech, I got phone calls saying, 'We're going to vote for her because we like what she said and we believe she could win,'" one local black woman said.

While Clinton once enjoyed a solid lead over Sen. Barack Obama among blacks, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that approximately 60 percent of blacks support Obama, compared to 32 percent who say they are supporting Clinton.

Obama Appeals to Faithful

Obama's grassroots support in South Carolina is diverse, coming largely from young people, blacks and the religious community.

Marnie Robinson, the Illinois senator's faith and outreach coordinator in South Carolina, says the intersection of faith and politics hits home to those in the South.

The senator's campaign is building a network of ministers throughout the state, encouraging churches to take an active role in his candidacy, helping to organize education drives, phone banks and voter registration, she said.

At the Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia, the pastoral staff has already begun gathering votes for Obama.

"They're taking vans to the polls to vote absentee this week," Robinson said. "Then we have the gospel café, which is a forum where we can actually reach 18 year olds to 45 year olds and we can actually, from the stage, encourage people about the importance of voting, remind them of the date, remind them to register to vote."

The Huckabee True Believers

Rick Malek, a native of West Milford, Ky., who shut down his hot dog business this winter to help rally support for Huckabee in Iowa says he supports the former governor because of his message, not because of his party affiliation.

"The Huckabee message has always been one that embraces the embattled working class in America, the small business owners of America, and the little people in America that all feel that the Washington politiocrats are the problem and that solutions for working people matter more than political party or rigid ideology. He calls it 'Vertical Politics,'" Malek said.

In fact, Malek is a Democrat. He supported Howard Dean in the last campaign primary season. So, how did he go from supporting a liberal Democrat like Dean -- for whom he spent 15 months of blogging and volunteering before the New Hampshire primary -- to a right-wing conservative like Huckabee? Malek said it's because he believes he and Huckabee share ideals and an outsider's view of how to change Washington.

Dave Zannini is another Huckabee supporter that can certainly be credited for his endurance. Zannini was first introduced to Mike Huckabee in 2005 when he read an article about the former governor in Runner's World Magazine. Huckabee was little recognized on the national political scene at that time. He was better known known for his public battle with weight loss. After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2003, the governor lost 110 pounds and became a cheerleader for healthy living.

Zannini, a stay-at-home father with a 3-year-old daughter, was inspired politically and physically by Huckabee.

"I pledge to run 1000 miles in a '1000 Miles for' shirt to be completed by the general election, posting my daily progress on this site," Zannini said. "This site will also be used as a place for runners and non-runners to track Gov. Huckabee's progress and explore through his videos, news stories and press releases the many qualities I have found so impressive."