Lexington County a hotspot for Republican presidential candidates. Why?

Posted 2/16/24

Lexington County has been a hotspot throughout the lead-up to next weekend’s Republican presidential primary. 

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Lexington County a hotspot for Republican presidential candidates. Why?


Lexington County has been a hotspot throughout the lead-up to next weekend’s Republican presidential primary. 

Current and former presidential hopefuls Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott all appeared at events at least once, and most of them came through multiple times to appeal to local voters.

Why does the county attract so much attention?

Walter Whetsell, President and owner of Starboard Communications in Lexington, gave the Chronicle some insight as to why the County sees Republican candidates so often during an election year, explaining that the area’s convergence of media markets and the suburban atmosphere are part of the appeal.

Whetsell told the Chronicle that candidates coming to the county, at the most basic level, allows them the opportunity to meet real voters, shake hands and answer questions.

“It's pleasant for them, they like it. We're friendly. We're engaging,” he said. “We lean heavily Republican, just on the Republican versus Democrat scale. I think candidates enjoy coming to South Carolina.”

According to Whetsell, a big part of why Lexington is a good spot has to do with the media in the vicinity, especially when it comes to television, with multiple local affiliates ready and waiting to cover events and share that material with their national networks.. 

He said that Lexington County ranks sixth in the state for the highest density of Republican primary voters, following behind counties like Beaufort, Greenville, Spartanburg and Charleston, with Orangeburg ticking up the last few election cycles.

Lexington has been a hotspot for years, with Whetsell saying that if anything, the county has been trending down as far as its Republican prominence, adding that to any changes to the county's political atmosphere, but rather the fact that counties like Beaufort and Horry are seeing such high growth in Republican voters.

Whetsell emphasized that Lexington has always been a Republican county.

“I moved to Lexington in ’92. I went to a precinct level Republican Party meeting and I had to run to be a delegate to the county convention,” He said. “In other counties, that's just not the case. It's just you go to your precinct meeting, you’re assured you can represent your precinct at a county convention.”

When it comes to presidential candidate visits and what is appealing about the county, Whetsell joked that the county has better barbeque than almost any place. 

“I hate to say it that way but it's just the truth,” he said.

According to Whetsell, other appeals include that the county is more suburban than Richland County, and the urban capital city within on the other side of the Congaree River. And that Lexington is far more Republican than its larger neighbor to the east. But he made sure to emphasize that the Columbia media market is a very important one – making Lexington being part of that market appealing.

Whetsell also touched on the wide range of demographics in Lexington, which has agriculture in its more rural areas but also houses multinational companies like Michelin.

“I think it's just got a very broad appeal,” he said.

Gavin Smith, a Lexington Town Council Member and the CEO and founder of public relations and marketing firm The Inspyre Group, told the Chronicle that what he thinks appeals to the candidates is the people.

“We value faith. We value family. We value freedom,” he said. “And I think that as Republican presidential candidates are seeking the nomination. what better place to come than Lexington, that has those three core values?”

Smith also touched on the fact that South Carolina isn’t only the home state to Donald Trump’s lone remaining challenger, Nikki Haley,, but Lexington County is her home county that she served for while at the Statehouse.

“This is her roots for where her political career began,” he said. “You know, a lot of the support that she has, you know, really originates here in Lexington.”

Reinforcing his point, Haley made the second Lexington County stop of her presidential campaign last week.

Where exactly candidates stop can depend on logistics, Whetsell said, pointing to frequently visited sites like Lexington’s Hudson's Smokehouse BBQ (easily accessed off Interstate 20) and The Grove event venue in the Gilbert area (which candidates traveling along I-20 can get to and then return to the interstate with less than 30 minutes additional travel time).

When it comes to preparing for arrival, Whetsell said that candidates look at venues and talk to proprietors before coming down to ensure the location is an appropriate fit.

Whetsell emphasized that the message for the campaign is also taken into consideration when choosing a location.

“Let's say Nikki Haley wanted to trumpet her jobs, her accomplishments – during the time she was governor in particular, several international tire companies moved in,” he said. “So she would choose to go tour the Michelin plant, for instance.”

lexington county politics, sc republican primary, 2024 presidential eleciton


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