COLUMBIA -- Good weather and an attractive slate of candidates have South Carolina Democrats expecting record turnout for today's presidential primary, continuing a trend seen in other early-voting states.
A big turnout likely will propel the winning candidate into so-called "Super Tuesday," when more than 20 states vote Feb. 5. But state party leaders said it also will make Democrats more competitive in South Carolina.
Despite the surge in voters, though, few believe a Democratic candidate has a shot to win South Carolina in November's general election. The numbers aren't there yet.
In 2004, about 290,000 people voted in the Democratic presidential primary. Party officials are hoping as many as 350,000 voters will head to the polls today. Weather forecasts are for sunny skies and seasonable temperatures.
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"It's one of the reasons we wanted the early primary," said Don Fowler, a U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "I think that's moving in the right direction."
Fowler did not know how high turnout might affect the results, noting it depends on the demographics of those voters.
In Iowa, large numbers of new voters were credited with carrying U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to victory. Nevada and New Hampshire turnout helped Clinton win those contests.
The State Election Commission has issued more Democratic absentee ballots than Republican, a reversal of typical elections.
Last week in ice, rain and cold Republican turnout dipped about 22 percent from the all-time high in 2000. About 445,000 voted in last Saturday's Republican primary.
Few think that many Democrats will turn out, but the three candidates, Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards, have drawn larger crowds this week than most Republican rallies.
"Some of those people are going to vote in the Democratic primary," Obama supporter former Gov. Jim Hodges said of those who did not vote Republican. "We've got three good candidates."
Voters are allowed to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but not both.
Despite the trend of high turnout, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said it does not foreshadow a Democratic win in November. Democrats turned out in 1980 and 1988 primaries, Sabato said, only to see Republicans win the presidency.
Democrats have had a difficult time winning Southern states, with Bill Clinton the last candidate to claim Southern electoral votes in 1996.
"This has been happening all over the country," Sabato said. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything ... it's a good sign Democrats are engaged."
Katon Dawson, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party, said weather affected turnout last weekend. Candidates spreading resources among a number of states also limited the number of voters, he said.
"That intensity was not here," Dawson said of the difference between 2000 and 2008.
Joe Werner, executive director of the S.C. Democratic Party, said the primary will give them a large list of voters. In addition, he said, the campaigns will help them identify volunteers and activists. That data, Werner said, will help with fundraising and outreach.
"The excitement that's being generated has been a huge gain for the party," Werner said.
"I think we're a little ways away from becoming a blue state."