Allen's Army in South Carolina

As South Carolinians saluted and remembered Carroll Campbell and his major role in several primaries that were crucial to the Republican nomination for President, they looked ahead to 2008, when Palmetto State Republicans may be choosing between as many as a dozen prospective successors to President Bush.

To some pundits and pols, the first shot in that primary was fired recently when Jason Miller left his position as campaign manager for the re-election campaign of Sen. George Allen (R.-Va.) to take over as quarterback of the second-term bid of South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford. At first glance, this switch may not appear newsworthy in an era when campaign managers are traded like major league baseball team managers. Allen is a cinch for a second term, while Sanford will face a tough Democratic challenge. Miller, who has overseen first-term bids for Republican Representatives Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Ric Keller (Fla.), is more of a natural for a bare-knuckles campaign than for a political “slam dunk.”

But many Allen-watchers see more to the move than meets the eye. With Miller going to a key primary state to run a statewide campaign, they believe, he also may be able to lay the groundwork for an Allen presidential bid in the South Carolina primary two years later.

Already there are signs that Allen is emerging as the favorite of the Bushmen in the state.

“George Allen has made more inroads into the conservative community than anyone,” Heath Thompson of Columbia, manager of Bush’s 2000 primary campaign against John McCain, told the Columbia State. “Allen is a pretty strong conservative across the board. He has charisma and might well be the candidate to offer as an alternative to McCain. He’s the one to watch. That’s for sure.”

McCain, recently mobbed by well-wishers during a tour promoting his new book on character, is shown by most polls to be the favorite of GOP voters. The same polls usually show former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani running a close second to him, with Allen barely in single digits.

Although a large number of state Republican arties have opted out of the primary system in favor of conventions or caucuses to choose delegates, South Carolina is keeping the primary it has held since 1980. As Warren Tompkins recalled: “We decided to go for a primary back when Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and John Connally were running because we felt it would be easier to get people who lived in rural counties to come out and vote rather than go and sit in a meeting to elect delegates to a country convention. We also found that when someone votes for a candidate in a primary, he or she is more likely to come back and vote for and even work for that candidate in November. There has been no discussion of changing our primary system.”