South Carolina talk
Samantha Hayes in Columbia, South Carolina
On primary eve in South Carolina I know exactly what I want for breakfast. Good Food Fast. That's the slogan associated with Waffle House and along with a waffle and hash browns, I'm smothered and covered with fast political talk.
As Ann pours a large glass of orange juice for me, she asks "is that ya'lls big bus out there?"
She's looking toward the C-SPAN bus in the parking lot near the Embassy Suites.
"Nope," I replied. "We have the CNN Election Express, which at last check was at the state capital."
She may have just been making conversation, but Ann's interest in political vehicles provides me with an opening to ask her about her thoughts before Saturday's republican primary.
"Not sure I'll vote in that. I'm an Democrat, was raised that way."
"So you may be heading to the polls next weekend for the Democratic primary?"
"Yea, there's a chance. I like Edwards. At least I think he's pretty good looking!"
And from South Carolina, I add.
As I take a moment to dress up my waffle with butter and syrup I notice that a marine is sitting a couple of seats away.
"I served during the first Gulf War," Nathan tells me, "spent three years in that desert. And after the first Bush I really didn't like Clinton. Hated him, really. Didn't like the changes in policy he made. So I wouldn't be for Hillary, especially with this war."
I asked him his thoughts on John Mccain.
"Yeah, he's the only one with that kind of experience so I might lean toward him."
South Carolina is my third stop since the beginning of the year and I've discovered that voters in Iowa , New Hampshire, and South Carolina have not made up their minds, which is what the polls have been indicating.
So here we are, three weeks into the nomination process and its impossible to determine a front runner in either party.
That could change after Saturday's caucuses in Nevada and the Republican Primary in South Carolina.
For an insider's look at what's going on there I called David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He told me the contest in Nevada may just get down to which candidate has the best organization to get people to the caucuses.
We met Damore in November during the CNN Democratic Debate and this week. I was also interested in his thoughts on the most recent Democratic debate among Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. "It may have been boring for the media, but I thought it was very good for voters. We saw some clear differences in policies and if undecided, I think many voters had a good feel for the candidates afterward."
Damore also directed me to a blog where he contributes political insights.
On politickernv.org, Damore outlines what he thinks may be some of the "wildcards" affecting his state's caucuses.
He points out that the Democratic Party is allowing voters to register on Saturday, the same day as the caucuses. (To participate in a GOP caucus, you must be registered a month prior.)
During our conversation, Damore told me that this may benefit Obama "who has shown the ability to expand traditional voting groups."
Damore's second wildcard scenario could also benefit Obama. It involves young voters who contributed to his win in Iowa.
The Democratic Party in Nevada is allowing voters who will be eighteen and eligible to vote in November during the general election, to participate in the caucuses now. So will a significant number of seventeen year olds show up?
His third point involves the "at large" casino caucuses. Many workers on the Vegas strip are members of the Culinary Union which has endorsed Obama.
"The real question is how much discipline the culinary union will be able to instill over its rank-and-file members at these sites. In particular, are Hispanics who are more likely to support Hillary Clinton going to break ranks with their union bosses and if so, what will be the consequences?"
Some political analysts are saying that this weekend's contests may not bring us any closer to a leading candidate in either party. But even if the race remains muddled among the candidates, it will be interesting to see, just as in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan, who turns out. Will younger voters head to the caucuses and primary? What are going to be the motivating issues?
For the first time we will hear from minority voters, possibly a substantial number of Latinos in Nevada and African American voters if not Saturday, then next week in South Carolina's Democratic primary.