GOP candidates turn South, take hard right turn

Every four years, you can always tell when the Republican presidential primaries are headed South. The claws come out, the dirty tricks ramp up -- and the political positions of the GOP hopefuls all turn sharply to the right.

Case study #1: Mike Huckabee channeling George Wallace yesterday in a spirited defense of state's rights, specifically South Carolina's right to fly the Confederate flag at the state capitol:

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag ... In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do."

Not quite as colorful as Huckabee's TV bit last week suggesting Fred Thompson might benefit from taking Metamucil, but it's sure to rile up South Carolina's "Lost Cause" conservatives and get them to the polls.

South Carolina has a way of bringing this out. Think back to 2000,when George Bush rushed off to evangelical Bob Jones University to launch his candidacy in the state -- a school that called Catholicism a "cult" and, when Bush made his appearance, had yet to give the green light to interracial dating.

And then there are the dirty tricks. In November 2004, our reporter Jordan Green broke the story about how South Carolina NAACP members received bogus letters -- on fake NAACP letterhead -- saying the mostly-black readers couldn't vote if they had unpaid parking tickets or bad credit (pdf).

As Bloomberg reports, the dirty tricks once more in full display. In 2000, it was operatives spreading the rumor that John McCain fathered an illegitimate black child. This year, the understudies of Lee Atwater (which include Karl Rove) are at it again:

Among Republicans, the shenanigans this year include automated telephone pseudo-surveys trashing former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson's stance on abortion, mailings claiming Arizona Senator McCain turned his back on fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam and a phony Christmas card from former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney extolling polygamy.

By the way, it's not just Old South states like South Carolina. As Ken Silverstein of Harper's (who has been doing some of the country's best Southern reporting this election season) points out, hard-right politics are also playing out in Florida:

Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 roadshow campaign is holed up in Florida, where he's hoping to win the January 29 primary by appealing to conservative voters, giving special emphasis to right-wing Cubans. On January 3, even as the other top GOP presidential contenders were in Iowa on the day of that state's caucuses, Giuliani traveled to the Miami area to woo Cuban exiles.

Proof that Giuliani is winning the hard-right Cuban exile vote: his generous backing from the Bacardi family, the famous rum distillers and GOP political kingpins. A major force behind deposed Texas Congressman Tom DeLay's rise to power, the Bacardi family is now solidly behind Giuliani, Silverstein reports, pouring nearly $30,000 into his campaign between March and August of 2007.