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Ahead of Republican primaries South Carolina turns into verbal warzone

As Republicans hold their third nominating contest Saturday in South Carolina, the race has turned predictably ugly with all sides using dietary tricks in the state, as it has done historically.

world Updated: Feb 20, 2016 23:24 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Republican primary,South Carolina,Nikki Haley
Voters wait in line for a polling place to open at Eastlan Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.(AP Photo)

Nikki Haley, the Indian American governor of South Carolina, says she wears heels not as a fashion statement, but to be prepared to kick at anytime. Politics in her state is a blood sport.

As Republicans hold their third nominating contest Saturday in South Carolina, the race has turned predictably ugly with all sides using dietary tricks in the state, as it has done historically.

Donald Trump never been more aggressive this cycle, trashing the Bush family, threatening to sue Ted Cruz saying his birth in Canada disqualifies him from running for the White House.

Marco Rubio has been hit by a flurry of faked pictures and videos, for which he has claimed the Cruz campaign, which in turn has claimed being fouled by the Rubio campaign.

There is much at stake here for the six Republicans in the field.

Trump is way ahead with 31.8% in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, with Ted Cruz second with 18.4%, Marco Rubio third with 17.8% and Jeb Bush fourth with 10.3%.

A victory for Trump, his second after New Hampshire, will further his claim on the nomination and the party will be forced to start getting used to him as the nominee.

Cruz and Rubio who are locked in a close contest for the second slot will be looking for a strong second in South Carolina begin to start threatening Trump for the top slot.

It’s important for Rubio, the leading establishment candidate, to turn in a strong performance after his dismal finish in New Hampshire. He is currently polling second.

For Bush, it’s a question of survival, with experts saying it will be difficult for him to continue if finishes outside top four, he is currently polling at the fourth position.

Andy Shain, who covers politics for The State, a local news publication, argues that the race turns dirty and ugly in south Carolina because of the stakes at this stage.

Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating contests, is where candidates test their message. And voters wield the scimitar to remove candidates they don’t think are serious.

So, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Jim Gilmore — six of the 17 that started out — left the race since Iowa on the Republican side.

Five others, including Bobby Jindal — the first Indian American to ever run for the White House — left before the primaries. That leaves six still in the race, until the next trimming.

Democrats, who started out with a much slimmer line-up, also narrowed the field from three at the start of the nominating contests to two, with Martin O’Malley dropping out.

Shain argues that around now, with only the most serious candidates surviving, the race gets extremely rough and competitive, And nasty, predictably.

“The race gets nastier and unfortunately – and at least for my state and its reputation, we seem to be the place where, as the field has drawn down or as the race is getting more intense, we’re the place where it happens,” Shain said.

Governor Haley, ofcourse, believes South Carolina plays rough, always. “When you come to South Carolina, it’s a blood sport. Politics is a blood sports,” she said at a recent news conference.

“I wear heels; it’s not for a fashion statement. It’s because you’ve got to be prepared to kick at anytime.” That’s what Republican candidates and their supporters have been doing.

A photograph surfaced Thursday of Rubio shaking hands with President Barack Obama, who is a deeply divisive figure for conservatives, and remains their favorite target.

The two may have shaken hands at some stage, but this picture was photoshopped. And Rubio’s campaign accused Cruz, a fellow Cuban American, of engineering it.

“The picture’s fake and that alone tells you everything I’ve been saying for the last few days - he’s making things up,” Rubio told reporters after an event here on Thursday.

This was the second time the Rubio campaign had complained of foul play. The first was over a video of a leading South Carolina congressman dumping Rubio after endorsing him.

Cruz acted horrified, saying in a tweet, “Our campaign had absolutely nothing to do with this fraudulent Facebook post.” And called it “deplorable” in another tweet.

But no one was convinced.

In 2008, Senator John McCain, who was running for the Republican presidential ticket, was hit by rumors he had fathered an illegitimate child. It was false, of course.

First Published: Feb 20, 2016 23:24 IST