Area officials back hopefuls

Hoping to infuse his South Carolina campaign with the grass-roots appeal he's cultivated in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee announced a raft of endorsements this week from current and former York County elected officials.

Joe Cox of Sharon and Paul Lindemann of Fort Mill joined predecessors Steve McNeely and Jeff Updike in coming out for the former Arkansas governor, who is making a surprise run in a crowded Republican field.

The jockeying for endorsements here and elsewhere reflects the intensity of the race across South Carolina, where as many as four candidates believe they have a shot to win the Jan. 19 primary. The question is: Do these endorsements matter?

"This is really the first time I've come out in support of someone and the first time anyone really cared or asked," said Updike, who lost his seat to Lindemann last year. "It'll get people thinking, and maybe they'll start paying attention. That's what I hope they do, check it out firsthand."

Busy season for endorsements

Many York County GOP stalwarts already have made their picks. County Councilman Curwood Chappell and state Rep. Carl Gullick, for example, support John McCain.

Mitt Romney won over former state Rep. Ralph Norman, former GOP Chairman Henry Eldridge and restaurateurs Larry and Kathy Bigham. Fred Thompson is getting help from conservative Clover activist Park Gillespie.

Though he lacks the name recognition of McCain and the war chest of Romney, Huckabee has found some success lately in positioning himself as an authentic social conservative, particularly in Iowa, where a poll this week showed him in first place.

The challenge Huckabee faces is translating that momentum into viable operations in the other early voting states. That's where a network of endorsers can help, said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.

While Joe Cox doesn't deliver the same star power as Oprah Winfrey (who will soon campaign for Barack Obama), every name on a list can bring credibility.

"It's a back-door way to building an organization without money," Huffmon said. "People want to focus on the big-name, high-profile endorsements. But sometimes, it's not who endorses you. It's the number and the kind that sometimes -- not always -- trumps the who."

This week, Huckabee also announced backing from Michael Johnson, a Fort Mill school board member; Linda McCall, wife of York County GOP Chairman Glenn McCall; and Mike O'Dell, director of missions for the York Baptist Association.

In the cases of McNeely and Updike, staying active on the political scene might relate to more than just the presidential race. Both men say they've been approached by supporters about running for the County Council seats they lost last year, and neither has ruled it out.

Open this week's Parade Magazine, and you'll find pictures of Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez and Paul McCartney. Turn a few pages deeper, though, and another slightly less glamorous celebrity appears: U.S. Rep. John Spratt.

The York Democrat is spotlighted on Page 19 in the weekly "Newsmakers" feature as "The Man Behind the Federal Budget." Parade is distributed free with the Sunday Herald.

Spratt became chairman of the House Budget Committee when the Democrats regained the majority last year, and he'll play a central role in crafting the federal budget.

Asked about who takes care of the money at home in York, Spratt credited his wife, Jane. "She pays most of the bills," he said.

Not surprisingly, the accompanying photo shows Spratt pointing to one of his infamous charts during a news conference.