Columbia, USC to welcome Colbert

Columbia, prepare to have a good laugh.

The public is invited today to USC's Horseshoe, where Mayor Bob Coble will present Stephen Colbert -- political satirist, presidential hopeful and Charleston native -- a key to the city and a proclamation that Colbert is truly "South Carolina's Favorite Son."

Say what?

"It's true," Coble confirmed Friday. "When I heard that (Colbert) was running for president, I said, 'Let's invite him down here. Let's show him all the great things about Columbia."'

(Keep in mind that Coble gave a key to the city to former teen pop stars New Edition in 2006.)

Sunday could prove to be an equally strange event.

Colbert, host of Comedy Central's spoof of an opinion news show, "'The Colbert Report," announced earlier this month his run for president and that he will campaign only in his native state.

"I am from South Carolina," he announced. "I am for South Carolina. And I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina, those beautiful, beautiful people."

On his popular show, Colbert plays an investigative blowhard, a conservative pundit with a passion for his own opinion.

"I'm not a fan of fact," he has said. "Facts can change, but my opinion will never change."

As of Friday, Colbert had yet to file or pay the fees to get on either the Democratic or Republican ballot. He's got until Thursday.

The announcement coincides with the release of his book, "I Am America (And So Can You!)."

Still, in true "native son" form, he's worked South Carolina barbecue and peaches into his show.

"If you think of S.C., you can think of barbecue and peaches, but you can think of hydrogen fuel cells, too," Coble said.

The mayor already has sent Colbert an informational packet about USC's Innovista, the university's new research campus that city and university leaders are hoping will become a Mecca for hydrogen fuel cells and other high-tech research.

And the mayor also has ready a necktie with Palmetto trees on it that he'll give to Colbert on Sunday.

"I hope he'll wear it on one of his future shows," the mayor said.

Oh sure, Coble knows Colbert will use the visit as comedic fodder.

But he's hopeful that the Colbert Nation -- a name for Colbert's fan base -- will learn a thing or two about Columbia and come for a visit. Heck, maybe they'll even decide to stay.

"We're willing to take any blow as long as they get a good picture of the Horseshoe and the Innovista," Coble said. "I'm considering offering him a ride on the hydrogen fuel cell Segway."

Oh dear.

For those not in the "hydrogen know," that's a three-wheeled scooter that's powered not by electricity but with the alternative fuel, hydrogen.

Columbia City Council member Anne Sinclair said the visit should be a hoot for everyone.

"It's good to have a little humor in this race," Sinclair said. "This will be exciting."

Meanwhile, Columbia resident and watcher of city politics Jay Graham said he thinks it's fun.

"But I worry about the Horseshoe location," Graham said. "That's close to the Confederate flag (at the State House.) Colbert may get a pair of binoculars and say, 'What's that up there?'"