Interviewing SC GOP Chair Katon Dawson

Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to talk to Katon Dawson, the SC GOP Chairman. Dawson’s name has been circulating as a potential RNC chair for quite a while, and his regular statements on national issues suggests that that discussion isn’t going away. (although, one suspects that if John McCain wins the White House, someone who openly worked for him would have a greater chance than someone who quietly worked against him like Saul Anuzis)

Dawson is also coming from a very red state. Republicans have 8 of 9 statewide offices and the last 7 special elections. While Dawson is quite confident that John McCain will carry his state in November, he offers a warning:

Early presidential states got to see the power of [Barack Obama’s] grassroots network. We are well prepared to defeat him soundly. … But any state that does not prepare does so at their own peril.

I asked if increased African-American turnout would create a problem for some legislative seats, and he responded, again, quite confidently, "we should win some seats we would not win normally," due to "partial birth abortion, gay marriage, which are the pillars of the Democratic platform."

I asked about divisions in the state party. Governor Mark Sanford, loved by national conservatives, has a very rough relationship with the state legislature. And there was a brief and decisive primary between Senator Lindsay Graham and Buddy Witherspoon. (Graham won by more than 2-1) Dawson repsonded that "tension has made for a healthy party" and pointed to agreement on issues like tort reform, medical malpractice, taxes, and other issues.

Witherspoon had been the state’s Republican National Committeeman, and he stood down to challenge Graham, focusing on judges, immigration, and similar issues. Witherspoon’s RNC spot was eventually taken by Glenn McCall who I previously interviewed.

Interestingly, the Gang of 14, for which many conservatives have attacked Graham — and John McCain — was seen as a strength in the primary by Dawson:

Lindsay has tacked some really big issues. The really big factor was two Supreme Court Justices. … Now that we are in the minority, I can say that Lindsay was right.

I had remembered Beltway conservatives explain that this was going to be the decisive issue in the primary. I guess not so much. The other issue was, of course, immigration, but Dawson noted that Governor Mark Sanford and the legislature "fixed the immigration problem in South Carolina."

Lastly, Dawson expressed a lot of excitement over Tim Scott, who will likely be the first post-Reconstruction Republican African American to serve in the state house. Dawson said that with conservatives like Scott and McCall, Republicans are showing that we can make inroads in the African-American community without giving up our principles.