It’s gotten ugly out there.
While South Carolina is known for its touristy beaches and Southern cuisine, the Palmetto State is also notorious in the political world for stripping the layers of civility off of campaigns, revealing the darker underbelly often associated with politics.
This year is no exception.
The intensity of the attacks has escalated and the antics have become more questionable than in previous months.
“South Carolina is where the stuff starts to get more personal and these campaigns and candidates stop liking each other,” Reed Galen, a political strategist who worked on numerous presidential campaigns, said.
It’s a circular firing squad. The three leading presidential candidates in the Republican primary have dropped the etiquette and are fulfilling the stereotype that comes with South Carolina politics.
The candidates and their staff have been campaigning for nearly a year. The Iowa-nice is over. New Hampshire pride is so last week.
Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio are attacking Sen. Ted Cruz, calling him a “liar” and “unstable.”
“I’ve never seen anybody that lied as much as Ted Cruz,” Trump said, just weeks after Cruz and Trump refused to attack each other and after insisting they liked each other.
Trump sent Cruz a “cease and desist” letter over an ad where he said in 1999 that he is “very pro-choice.”
Rubio is decrying Cruz’s antics, the latest of which is an anti-Rubio website posted by the Cruz campaign that photoshopped Rubio gleefully shaking President Barack Obama’s hand.
Rubio also alleges that the Cruz campaign created a fake Facebook page saying Rubio supporter, South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, is no longer backing Rubio and switched his support to Cruz.
They also blame Cruz for push polls, phone calls to voters under the guise of neutrality in an attempt to spread negative information about a candidate.
In South Carolina, both Trump and Rubio keep reminding voters that the Cruz campaign in Iowa on caucus night told supporters that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race.
In fact, Rubio is warning South Carolinians to "beware of dirty tricks" as they head to the polls Saturday.
And that's just a sampling.
Why the blood bath?
Matt Moore, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said it’s the state where presidents are chosen.
“We’re going to have serious impact on the direction of the race,” Moore said.
South Carolina has chosen the nominee in every election since 1980 except for the last one when the state voted for Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney. But that’s a record that candidates are well aware.
Of the six remaining candidates in the Republican field, all are competing there. Even Donald Trump has lived in the state for the past week.
It’s home to demographics different than Iowa or New Hampshire. It’s the first state where African Americans represent a significant percentage of the population. It is home to the highest percentage of veterans per capita. Northern retirees are mixed with the South Carolina born and bred and the evangelicals tend to vote on a plank more broad than just social issues. It’s also a window into the rest of the Republican-heavy rest of the South.
The state has a history of dirty tricks that Galen said have been far worse than what is happening this year.
That’s because the godfather of nasty political campaigns, Lee Atwater, is from there. He helped to create the South Carolina primary in 1980. At the same time he was ushering in racial politics when spreading rumors about former Texas Governor John Connally, who was challenging his boss Ronald Reagan.
Those attacks, meant to play into racial prejudices in the former capital of the confederacy, continued.
The most well-known instances include the 2008 Democratic race when President Bill Clinton played the race card on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Sen. Barack Obama.
In 2000, the team of George W. Bush spread rumors that Sen. John McCain fathered an African American child. Galen worked for Bush during that campaign and said that race “goes down as a very tough campaign.”
Galen notes that politics is more than just a sport in South Carolina. It has built a successful political class, whose livelihood depends on electoral outcomes.
“There are a lot of long standing local operatives that this is their bread and butter,” Galen said. “Winning is their job.”