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Is it that time already?

by Kirk Ross

I hope you’re ready, because the Southern primary season is right around the corner thanks to the South Carolina GOP’s recent bid to maintain its first-in-South status.

Responding to Florida’s decision to change its primary date, Palmetto State Republicans moved their primary up to Jan. 19. That’s less than 160 days away, depending on when you read this.

That backs up the train since Iowa insists on first place, New Hampshire follows closely and so on. As a result, the 2008 primary season is edging dangerously close to 2007.

Unlike, their fellow South Carolinians, Democrats in South Carolina say they’ll keep their Jan. 29 primary date. That doesn’t mean it’ll be any less interesting, though.

The South Carolina primary had been a bellwether for the now-defunct Super Tuesday for some time – and the state rang the bell for Bill Clinton in 1992 when the soon-to-be president rolled over Tom Harkin – who had been campaigning with Jesse Jackson – and Paul Tsongas, who was considered Clinton’s top challenger after Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerry dropped out following dismal numbers in Georgia.

Clinton’s decisive win there on the Saturday before the ’92 Super Tuesday set him up for checkmate.

Scene: A ballroom after a rally in Columbia; dejected Kerry staffers throwing back a few with the Clinton crowd and everyone swapping tales about dirty tricks courtesy of Lee Atwater.

The Clintons have a solid set of connections in South Carolina and not just former governor and Clinton-era Secretary of Education Dick Riley and friends. Hillary Clinton has worked the state’s historically African-American campuses since ’92 and knows the political landscape.

This makes South Carolina her chance to score big against John Edwards and Barack Obama early on in the South.

Edwards, who has been concentrating mainly on Iowa for years now, needs a solid South Carolina showing – not just because it’s his home state and he’s seen as the Southern candidate, but in order to prove that his anti-poverty message is going get him votes in places outside of union strongholds.

Obama has to prove that he can wrestle African-American support from the Clinton camp. If he doesn’t, then he faces hearing Brit Hume and Tucker Carlson question his blackness ad nauseam.

Meanwhile, in NC

The primary for North Carolina remains May 7, proving once again what a civilized and humble bunch we are. But eagerness to delve into the races down-ballot from the presidential primary has many a pundit scanning for early clues among the scraps of information available, especially the wide-open governor’s race.

The latest campaign finance reports are doubling as tea leaves and show that State Treasurer Richard Moore has a slight edge over Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.

Perdue has a mere $3.4 million on hand right now, while Moore has $3.7 million, according to the latest reports.

That’s still far more that either Fred Smith or Bill Graham (the wealthy lawyer from Salisbury, not the beloved preacher), who are spending away and only have $171,313 and $15,025 as of the latest reports respectively.

But the GOP candidates have skunked their Democratic counterparts in one category: money they’ve loaned themselves for their campaigns.

Smith’s report lists seven loans from himself for a total of $386,455.

Graham, who is not the former host of “Hour of Decision,” wrote his campaign one check so far this year – for $613,617.17.

Musta really worked the spreadsheet to get it down to the last penny.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileOnJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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