Dixie Democrat

CBSNews.com: What do you mean by that?

Joe Werner: South Carolina Democrats are not that different in the sense that we believe in showing fiscal responsibility. South Carolina Democrats believe the war in Iraq is a complete mess and the incompetence by the Bush administration has us bogged down in a civil war. Those are things that folks in Iowa believe. Those are things that folks in New Hampshire believe. We don't have as large a union representation nearly to what Iowa does, or what New Hampshire does, but Democrats in South Carolina, just like in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, are concerned about middle class families not being able to make ends meet, health insurance being the biggest expenditure, not doing something about health care and its affordability and its access. We believe that's a problem, too. We're really not all that much different.

CBSNews.com: If that's the case, then what does having South Carolina come so early add to the process? How does it help select a better presidential candidate?

Joe Werner: It's huge because of the diversity issue. Most political folks will say that African Americans represent a large chunk of our base. Campaigning in South Carolina, with half the electorate being African American, will certainly give you an indication of whether you can relate to that community, if you can talk to their issues. You can translate that over the rest of the states. There's a lot of value to having South Carolina early.

CBSNews.com: Do you think that's going to translate into an advantage for Barack Obama's campaign? From what you've seen of his organization, has he been doing a pretty good job there?

Joe Werner: Sen. Obama does have a very strong organization in South Carolina. I think he's doing a very good job in this state. He has a very good team down here and it shows. I travel all across the state, going to county party breakfasts and every time I go to one there's an Obama person there talking about Sen. Obama. He's doing very well here. But so is Hillary Clinton and so is Bill Richardson. Last quarter, Bill Richardson raised, I believe, almost $100,000 here. And you can't ever count out John Edwards. John Edwards won this state in '04 and he still does have a lot of very strong backers here. He was born in South Carolina and represented North Carolina. There's still a natural draw to him for a lot of South Carolina Democrats. Senator Clinton and her message of folks being invisible, that resonates here in South Carolina. It's going to be a great race, it really is, and it's been very exciting from a party perspective to get Democrats down here excited and you can tell that there is more energy now than I think a lot of folks would say they've seen in a long time.

CBSNews.com: Do you have any theories as to why, right now, Sen. Edwards, who won in '04 in his birthstate, is trailing in polls there?

Joe Werner: I really think if you're watching the polls now you're not doing anyone any favors. I really believe that. I don't know what polling says now. I do think that Sen. Edwards is shifting staff. It seems like Sen. Edwards is putting a lot of emphasis on the Iowa Caucuses. But I do think he has a strong team here. There is a lot of institutional support for him here.

CBSNews.com: New Hampshire and Iowa, in the general election, are both battleground states — New Hampshire looks like it's leaning pretty "blue" these days. South Carolina's been very "red" in presidential elections. Do you think the Democrats there view the primary in a more special way? Do they view this as their one shot to make a real impact on the race?

Joe Werner: Governor Dean's 50-state strategy, as chair of the Democratic Party — having South Carolina as an early primary state plays into all of that. I believe that Democrats in South Carolina are too far behind in too many regions in too many counties in too many precincts of our state to just give up on it. I believe that. Do I think that South Carolina will turn blue this next cycle? Probably not. But over the course of the next few cycles, I think we absolutely can. Writing us off will not do anything to help South Carolina Democrats.

CBSNews.com: Is there a sense of that kind of excitement among the Democratic voting base there?

Joe Werner: Oh my goodness. The rank and file here, like I said earlier, are more energized and more excited than I think a lot of folks have seen in a very, very long time. From county chairs all the way down to precinct vice-chairs, there is a lot of energy and excitement in the South Carolina Democratic Party right now.

Editor's Note:Much like Washington, Political Players will be taking the rest of the month off. It will return in September.
By David Miller