When it comes to picking presidents, South Carolina has a record worth putting your money on. But when it comes to producing presidents, the Palmetto state falls to the back of the pack.
South Carolina’s primary voters, who go to the polls in nine days, have accurately chosen the past seven GOP nominees, but no South Carolinian has claimed White House glory for themselves in nearly 200 years.
South Carolina is not alone in its dry spell of president producing. In all, 33 states have never been the birthplace of a president, which means all 44 commanders-in-chief hail from just 17 states.
Massachusetts, for example, has been home to four presidents, Texas has sent three of its own to the White House and Virginia has sent eight, although none in past century. So what is it about these states that make them so ripe for presidential success?
“You have the infrastructure as far as campaigns, as far as history, as far as money, and you have a significant population,” said Sherri Greenberg, a former Texas House representative and lecturer at the University of Texas’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “All of that is very helpful.”
Rick Perry’s Texas roots helped blast his campaign out of the gates with a deep-pocketed fundraising base and, along with fellow Texan and rival candidate Ron Paul, a corner on the market for the Lone Star state’s 38 electoral votes.
“This is fertile territory as far as fundraising,” Greenberg said. “You do have some rather significant folks with significant wealth here historically from oil and gas but also in technology.”
That may be why Texas has sent more people to the White House in the past century than any other state. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush all called Texas home.
While a candidate’s home state may give them a slight edge over the competition, Greenberg stresses “it’s no guarantee.” If Perry and Paul lose the nomination, they will become the sixth and seventh failed presidential candidates from Texas since 1952.
“This is math; this is addition,” she said. “And when all is said and done you have to be able to put together those electoral votes to make the winning formula.”
Massachusetts tells a similar story. Four presidents are from the Bay State – John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy.
The state hit a quarter-century dry spell following Kennedy’s assassination. In the past 25 years four Bay staters have launched bids for the presidency. All have failed.
Two — John Kerry and Michael Dukakis — got as far as the general election but both lost to Texans, Dukakis to Bush Sr. and Kerry to Bush Jr.
Current GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney is hoping to change that trend, despite having another Texan “nipping at his heels.”
In a Republican Party that has shifted toward Tea Party conservativism, the more moderate Massachusetts may be more of a drag to Romney’s election than a boost.
“The country is basically more conservative now than Massachusetts,” Whalen said. “To the core constituencies he is trying to appeal to it’s a dirty word. It is something of an albatross to hang around him.”
Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have jumped on the opportunity to label Romney a “moderate Republican from Massachusetts” and pick up more conservative voters for themselves as they head into South Carolina, a state brimming with such conservatives.
“Gingrich and Perry are trying to set up an ambush at the Mason-Dixon line,” Whalen said.
Whalen said Romney will have to balance his more moderate, northern roots with a vice presidential running mate that carries the support of southern conservatives.
“More so than ever the number two pick is going to be hugely important in the Republican Party,” Whalen said. “He needs to make a direct appeal to the Sunbelt.”