— MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Four Republican candidates attended the Faith and Family Presidential Forum at Bob Jones University in South Carolina last Friday. But the local Greenville News was more concerned with those who didn’t bother.
“Trump, Kasich no-shows at BJU presidential forum,” the headline blared.
It wasn’t an accident. The religious university sits in the heart of South Carolina’s “Upstate” region, one of the most conservative stretches in the nation. Some candidates, like John Kasich, feel better-served by playing to their strengths in other parts of the state.
Here’s your guide to understanding South Carolina’s three major regions, and the voters that live in them.
The South Carolina counties in the northwest are the deepest shade of red.
“The Upstate is home to the conservative’s conservative,” said Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University. “It’s more responsive, say, to the son of a Baptist preacher.”
Enter Sen. Ted Cruz. The son of an evangelical pastor, Cruz is fluent in the language of local voters, which gives him a numerical edge: the small corner of the state accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Republican electorate in 2012.
But while Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson have captured endorsements from the pulpits, Donald Trump continues to electrify those in the pews. He holds a remarkable double digit advantage over Cruz with evangelicals in the state.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who feels the region plays to his strengths, has attacked Cruz for being inconsistent on military spending.
““When I’m president, we’re rebuilding the U.S. military,” the Florida senator told a South Carolina crowd Wednesday. “And this is not a position that I suddenly discovered 24 hours ago because I realized ‘Oh, I’m in South Carolina, there are a lot of veterans and military people here.’”
The Midlands is also home to some of the poorest stretches in the South, making jobs and poverty major issues.
Taylor Mason agreed, adding that Rubio and Trump have crossover appeal throughout the state, while Kasich should focus on counties east of the capital.
“There might be an appeal in the coast and the Midlands because he’s seen as a commonsense guy,” Mason said of Kasich.
But it's best not to paint the state's residents with the same brush.
“Here, you need to appeal to all three types of conservatives,” Mason explained. “Evangelicals, defense conservatives, and in the Lowcountry, economic conservatives. That’s why traditionally we have this role – you have to tie together these voters.”