Andrew Dys

Presidential primaries: S.C.’s turn to matter

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, left, and Hillary Clinton take the stage before a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Thursday.
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, left, and Hillary Clinton take the stage before a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Thursday. AP

The world notices South Carolina once every four years – unless we have bad news, such as when a racist with a gun kills nine black people in a church.

Then everybody notices.

But normally it is in presidential election years that what takes center stage, above all else, is us.

The people here, the tough and strong, the conservative in both parties – and make no mistake about it, most Democrats around here are socially and culturally conservative – get to vote in the presidential primaries. And by doing so, they help decide who will run this country.

In Fort Mill late Thursday night, at Morningstar megachurch, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who wants those conservative voters, was 90 minutes late to start speaking. It did not make a difference. More than 2,000 people, proud conservative Christians, waited to hear him, and that group again showed it is the people here who matter.

The crowd showed that South Carolina has a mind of its own.

This church is in my neighborhood. Its members are my neighbors, so I went there hours early and stayed and walked around and talked to dozens of people.

The people, at times lampooned by the media – who rarely, if ever, talk to those who are so earnestly conservative – were great. The primaries show that it is the people, the voters, who matter.

Cruz even said so, saying the media and the political class don’t decide who wins.

“The choice is going to be made by ‘we the people,’” Cruz said, to huge cheers.

The media that follow Cruz for some reason did not wade into this crowd of great people to ask them why they were there. They spent a lot of time looking at their cellphones, though. They missed Pam Payton, who has seen all candidates now all over the state.

“I want to make an informed decision for our country,” Payton said.

They missed Delores Gonzalez and her husband, Charlie, who say conservatism and God are not dead.

They missed Mike Moore, who lives just a few miles from the church and said he is against same-sex marriage and abortion but does not hate anyone who is for it.

“I am just against it. We believe in forgiveness, not acceptance,” Moore said.

I asked Wendy Sweat from Lancaster what conservatism means, and she looked at me and said: “It means being a Christian. It means my life.”

Sweat showed she owes nobody an explanation for being who she is or why she wants a conservative president.

The Bishops, Kelly, 26, and her husband, Daniel, 25, with a young son, Landon, less than a year old, live a few hundred yards from the church. They spoke about being Christians and being conservative, and that those things matter.

“Cruz is a conservative Christian and he holds true to those values,” Kelly Bishop said, “specifically, his support for pro-life.”

Conservatives, Christians, the Bishops and the people around them nodding their heads are tired of feeling like they do not matter and that their voices are not as important as others’.

This huge crowd, all these people, waited 90 minutes to hear Cruz because he vows to stand up for them.

It appears to be a two-man race – Cruz versus Trump. The fed-up for Trump, and the overlooked for Cruz.

The media talks about attack ads and focus groups when 6,500 people show up for Trump in Rock Hill and thousands more are turned away. The media asked Cruz about robocalls and ads when, on a cold Thursday night with the candidate 90 minutes late, 2,000-plus real, live South Carolina people showed up to see and listen to the candidate.

That’s the primary. The people. The people are generous and warm, and they fear America is turning cold.

Cruz spoke passionately about gun rights and how he does not like same-sex marriage and abortion. He slammed Obamacare and any notion of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Yet Cruz said all Republicans who want votes in South Carolina crow about gun rights.

“Unless you are clinically insane, that’s what you say in a Republican primary,” Cruz told the crowd.

That’s where Cruz, who already had these people, hooked them even more. He did not try to con them. He told them everybody would say they are conservatives to try to get votes.

Cruz laid it out straight to stomps and cheers: “We are gun owners and we love God,” Cruz told the audience.

Cruz lightened up the mood a bit: “I’m told people in South Carolina like their guns,” he said.

He was right. The crowd cheered. People took cellphone pictures and videos.

Cruz said his idea of gun control is like that of the audience: “Hittin’ what we aim at.”

The huge crowd jumped to their feet for him because that is who he is and always has been.

No mention was made of nine people dead from a racist’s gun. Or a York County toddler dead three months ago from a gun. Or York County’s assistant county manager and her child and another killed by a gun last summer.

Yet that is who these voters are. My neighbors, and yours. And they will decide, not the pundits and pollsters, not the advertisers.

The voters, conservative, Christian, South Carolinians who cheered when Ted Cruz said nobody will ever take their guns away, they will decide who they want as president.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065