HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- No, that isn't rock 'n' roll, or rest and recreation, it's Republicans and retirees. Which is largely a redundancy but ever more South Carolina's political profile. The moment that foreshadowed the state's new course: Strom Thurmond stalking out of the 1948 Democratic convention, leading the Dixiecrat children to a new promised land -- a GOP Sunbelt.
When I came down from Ohio in 1978 with my wife, my typewriter and our youngest daughter, Hilton Head Island was already feeling the effects of new arrivals. Back then Carolina legislators treated the island as an enclave of damn yankee intruders whose tax monies were welcome, though they weren't. The attitude has not entirely disappeared.
I soon met a wonderful, witty islander named Jonathan Daniels, the famous North Carolina journalist. Jonathan served FDR and Truman, as his father Josephus served Woodrow Wilson as Navy secretary. Jonathan quickly quizzed me about my politics. I said I was raised in a Republican house, now thought of myself as an independent, but often voted Democratic. He clasped my hand and cried, ''Thank God you've come. Now there are two of us in town.''
A major shortage, all right. The local Democratic club could have met in a closet. Republicans dominated our population of about 4,000: ex-generals, ex-admirals, ex-CIA executives, ex-corporate types. The impact of this new influx was yet to be felt statewide or nationally. In the late '70s, South Carolina was an undiscovered country. My editors in New York couldn't name our senators.
Today, because of manipulation of primary dates, South Carolina is the New Hampshire of the South. The change came because northern Republican arrivals happily melded with the state's conservative ex-Democrats and began to overpower the combination of yellow-dog Democrats and African-Americans who once could be counted on to swing elections. Sometimes, in the county where I live, Democrats can't even find candidates.
South Carolina has become a retirement haven. Pristine lands are razed for gated communities built around golf courses. George W. Bush is tied to the state Republican organization, hence he has a big base. But John McCain seems to have a growing army. Leading the march are veterans, probably Republicans, but that affiliation is less important than kinship with the military McCain. Independents and even Democrats increasingly talk about crossing over on Saturday to support McCain.
Who will win Saturday? The late Theodore H. White said that in the voting booth, Americans vote from their guts -- their emotions. Americans like to elect heroes: U. S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower. I'd give McCain the edge. As for me, I plan to drive down to the polling place, request a Republican ballot, and do my best to confound the experts by voting for -- well, guess.
(Jakes is the author of ''The North and South Trilogy'' and a forthcoming novel about Civil War espionage, ''On Secret Service.'')
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.