(CN) – The unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia is roiling the political establishment in Washington, D.C., but in South Carolina, where the Republican presidential primary is just four days away, voters attending a rally for Jeb Bush Monday night said the next president should pick the next justice.
In the immediate aftermath of Scalia’s death of natural causes at a Texas hunting resort on Saturday, President Obama said he will select a nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to block consideration of any nominee until voters elect a new president.
The line between Republicans and Democrats may be no brighter than in South Carolina, which has held the first-in-the-South presidential primary since 1980.
The state does not have voter registration by party, so voters may vote in either party primary but not both. In theory that would suggest fluidity in how the public votes in South Carolina. In reality, the voting breaks down along party lines as much in the Palmetto State as anywhere else.
In the wake of Scalia’s death, what one hears about the Supreme Court at poliitical rallies throughout the state falls squarely along party lines. On Monday night, as more than 3,000 turned out to see former President George W. Bush stump with his brother Jeb Bush, many in the crowd stood with the McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate.
Beth College, of Mount Pleasant, said that the United States “lost a great Supreme Court justice.
“There’s no question,” College said. “Will we ever get one as great to replace him? I doubt it, and I know we won’t if Obama gets to choose.”
“I know the Constitution gives the president the right to nominate an individual to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, but given that this is an election year, I really think he should wait,” she said.
She and Clarence Gatlin, of Charleston, said they believe the Senate should block the nominee and not back down.
“Absolutely they should,” College said.
Gatlin conceded that the president “should nominate whoever he wants to,” but said he expects the Senate “to take as long as they want to, to confirm, and it will be after next year, after the new president is inaugurated, before a new justice is appointed.”
Asked if he thought the court and the country could afford to wait that long, the 80-year-old was succinct.
“We can’t afford to have another liberal in there,” he said.
Robert Guadalupe, attending the Bush event with his wife, Lissette, also said he believes replacing Scalia should be put on hold.
“I think people of South Carolina believe we need to keep a balance in the court, and in my opinion, the person who replaces Justice Scalia should be conservative, as he was.”
Like the overwhelming majority of attendees at the Bush rally in the North Charleston performing arts center complex, Guadalupe believes the next president will be a Republican.
The question then was whether he thought any of the Republican hopefuls would be a better nominee than another.
“Any of the Republican candidates will pick a better judge than Obama,” he said. “The Senate should push back as hard as it can.”
But some saw the Supreme Court vacancy as a nonissue, in the near term.
“I don’t think [Scalia’s death] comes into play in the primary,” said Stephen Townsend, a Ladson, resident attending a rally for former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush in North Charleston Monday night.
“If this had happened in September or October, when people will be making a choice between a Republican or a Democrat – or doing everything they can to get their preference elected you bet it’d be something people would take into consideration,” he said.
“Right now, though … well, I know I’m voting for one of the Republicans, and I’m confident any one of them will choose a Conservative nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Right now, I think there are many other issues that seem more immediate when it comes to deciding whether to support this candidate or that one.”
Since last week, there have been about 10 Republican events a day in South Carolina. Meanwhile, the Democrats are being somewhat more low key, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holding just a handful of events in the state and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders none.
South Carolina is one of the few states where Democrats and Republicans vote on different dates. The Republican primary is this Saturday, Feb. 20, while the Democratic primary won’t be held until the following Saturday, Feb. 27.
The Democratic campaign schedule will ratchet up in South Carolina after the Republicans move on to their next battleground state.
South Carolinians are turning out in larger than expected numbers at almost every event. Last week, an event Ohio Gov. John Kasich set the tone when more than six times the expected number of attendees showed up.
On Monday, the big draw was former President George W. Bush, who put in two appearances on his brother’s behalf, one in North Charleston, and an earlier event in Columbia.
“We wanted to see Jeb, but we were very excited to see the former president,” Guadalupe said.
Stephen Townsend said campaign appearances give voters a chance to see a more nuanced side of the candidates than is possible during the seemingly endless round of televised debates.
“The debates are a lot of bantering and badgering,” he said. “What I want to hear is the candidates address the issues and topics at large.”
What’s surprising is that even this close to the primary, many rally attendees profess to still be making up their minds about the candidates.
One of the new who was firmly in Jeb Bush’s camp Monday night was Ann Marron, of Summerville.
“I like him,” she said. “I think he’s honest … sincere. And I would feel safest with him in the White House.”
Beth College, on the other hand, was among those who was “leaning but uncommitted.”
“I’m listening,” she said when asked what brought her out on a rainy Monday night.
“Jeb is definitely one of my three,” she said.
While Gatlin too was uncommitted, he was more forcefully so, if that’s possible.
“I am looking at the Republicans,” he said. “Trump is not a Republican.”
“I like the Bushes,” he continued. “I like old man Bush. I like boy Bush. And I like little Bush. But I haven’t said I am going to vote for Jeb fully.”
When asked why, Gatlin said he feels that Bush more than any of the other Republican hopefuls could have put Trump in his place last summer, when the billionaire developer’s candidacy began to gain traction.
“[Jeb] should have sealed it right there. He should have said, ‘Hold on a minute, I don’t want to hear any of this nonsense,’ but he didn’t,” Gatlin said.
“But I still care about the Bushes,” he continued. “Cruz I like, because he’s religious. Rubio I like because he started with nothing and has been a good senator for Florida. But I’m here tonight, listening to hear what Jeb will do in South Carolina.”
Gatlin said the South Carolina primary is critical to Jeb Bush’s White House hopes.
“He doesn’t have to win here, but he definitely needs to be in the top tier to continue with any reasonably hope of being the candidate,” he said.
As Gatlin spoke, College nodded in agreement.
Asked if she planned to see any other candidates this week, she was unequivocal.
“I want to see Trump,” she said without hesitation, though his nearest appearances before Saturday are all at least a 90-minute drive away.
“I want to see him in action,” she said.
“I didn’t like the fact that he bashed the Bushes during the debate [Saturday night] in Greenville [S.C.],” she said. I liked [Jeb’s] brother and I liked his daddy. I think they were both great president,” she said. “But I do like the fact Trump isn’t in anybody’s pocket.”
“I also like that he’s been in business, and while he’s both succeeded and failed in things he tried to do in business, he’s provided people with jobs,” College continued.
“Of course, I don’t like his narcissistic and egotistical attitude, but I do like a lot of things that he stands for. You have to. You just have to. I am so sick of politicians and the way they always operate with the philosophy of ‘one hand washes the other.’ Trump doesn’t have to do that,” she said.
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