Stephen Colbert announces presidential candidacy

[18 October 2007]

By Neil White

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Is South Carolina ready for an injection of truthiness?

With this week’s surprise announcement that mock right-wing political pundit and Charleston, S.C., native Stephen Colbert plans to run for president in both the Republican and Democratic primaries in this state, reaction was all over the Palmetto State map.

Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based GOP consultant, believes the blustery Bill O’Reilly-like cable-show host on Comedy Central will be a charismatic addition to the pair of already crowded fields.

“Come on in, the water is fine,” said Felkel, who delivered his own faux analysis of which candidates might get soaked by Colbert’s satirical splash.

“Mike Gravel’s in trouble now. Chris Dodd has something to be concerned about, and maybe even Tom Tancredo,” he said.

In the great American tradition of the late Pat Paulsen on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1968, Colbert’s entry into the race in this state only was highlighted by this pledge to the voters.

“I defy any other candidate to pander more to the people of South Carolina—those beautiful, beautiful people,” Colbert said in his announcement during Tuesday’s show on Comedy Central.

Now the 10 GOP and eight Democratic candidates will have to be prepared to out-pander Colbert.

Terry Sullivan, state campaign director for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tried to be diplomatic when discussing the newest rival of his preferred candidate.

“I’m shocked Stephen Colbert would run for president. He’s clearly overqualified for the job,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan declined, however, to say if that meant Colbert was more qualified than any other candidate in the race—although he did a let a little nervous laugh slip out.

Carol Khare Fowler, the S.C. Democratic Party chairwoman, is quite certain Colbert’s feigned righteousness will allow him to fare better in the GOP primary than the Democratic one.

“Those Republicans will fall for anything,” she said.

Katon Dawson virtually harrumphed when discussing the commentator’s comic candidacy.

Before Colbert pays the $35,000 required before Nov. 1 to run in the GOP primary, Dawson thinks he should consider another alternative to throwing a monkey wrench into the Republican field.

“He would have as much fun purchasing a sports car and getting a girlfriend,” Dawson said.

Felkel sees Colbert making more headway on the Republican side since there’s not a clear front-runner like Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side.

Colbert’s advantage?

“He’s definitely got better hair than Romney,” Felkel said.

Colbert is pursuing a favorite-son strategy based on his Lowcountry upbringing, territory already staked out by Palmetto State native and Democratic hopeful John Edwards.

Teresa Wells, state communications director for the Edwards campaign, insisted her candidate is not threatened by Colbert’s tactics.

“We are happy to see another South Carolina native enter the race. We welcome him and the return of his Southern accent to South Carolina,” Wells said. “Our staff would like to challenge his staff to a South Carolina debate—`I Am Barbecue (And So Can You!).’”

But the 43-year-old Colbert, whose new book “I Am America (And So Can You!)” is on best-seller lists, hasn’t been a true South Carolina resident since he left for college long ago, which could possibly backfire on him.

“What’s the reason he hasn’t been here? If it’s because he doesn’t like us, that will hurt him,” Fowler said.

She’s not sure the favorite-son shtick will work anyway. “By primary day, they’ll all be claiming to be from here.”

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