By DENALI CULVER and MADDOX MCKIBBEN-GREENE
AIKEN, S.C. – Grumpy’s Sports Bar boasts beer “as cold as your Ex’s heart,” but inside on a weekday afternoon it was full of friendly patrons with plenty to say about the state’s upcoming Democratic presidential primary.
“I wish they would go away,” said Linda Carsia, who is more than ready for Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic primary to be over. “Democrats are not like they used to be: They lie. It’s well-known that they tear down and divide.”
That’s a typical sentiment in this largely Republican town of 28,000, where 61.5% of residents supported President Trump in the 2016 election, according to the South Carolina Election Commission.
Carsia’s husband, Rick Carsia, doesn’t even watch the news anymore, something the couple used to do several times a day.
“When we do watch the news, when anything with the Democrats comes on, I turn the channel because I’m sick of it,” Rick Carsia said. “It’s mudslinging, it’s ‘vote for me, this is what I can do for you.’”
“You’ve got all these people having to raise money and do their thing, and they end up fighting with each other,” said Steve Price, a lifelong Republican and Grumpy’s Sports Bar regular. “But they’re all Democrats so it’s like, c’mon, you know? Why do ya gotta go over there and pick on your own guy? It just isn’t right.”
There were few defenders of the Democratic presidential candidates, although Anita Padgett, general manager at New Moon Cafe, said she is an avid Pete Buttigieg supporter and volunteers with his campaign. And the road into town is lined with signs for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, indicating that she also has supporters in this town that attracts lovers of horses and horse racing.
Price and his best friend of 10 years, Laun Davis, debated the effects of political “mudslinging” while watching monster trucks race on television.
“To me, it’s just a bunch of nuts who have fat heads,” Price said between laughs.
“That’s about right!” Davis agreed, laughing along with his friend. Both men said they will cast ballots for President Trump in 2020.
David Smith, another Grumpy’s patron with plans to support the president in the general election, is relying on President Trump’s unpredictability to get things done.
“I recognize what he is,” Smith said. “I mean, he can be a scuzzball. When it comes to the politics side, I probably identify with him most.”
President Trump’s lack of political background seemed to be the reason most Aiken citizens liked him so much.
“I just think he’s not what they’re used to so he’s shaking things up, and that’s what’s making a difference,” said Gretchen Hatch-Heffner, who was sipping tea at her favorite rainbow table in New Moon Cafe. “He truly goes by his own road, and they don’t quite understand that, but I think Washington [D.C.] needed a little bit of that. New thought versus the same old same old.”
Hatch-Heffner formerly lived in Philadelphia, and since moving to this community in the western part of the state hasn’t missed a single election, local or national.
“You know what’s funny? Until I moved to Aiken 14 years ago, I couldn’t have cared less. Moving here, to us this was a small town, so [it felt like] your vote actually counted.”
In Aiken, political debate is commonplace and can erupt as citizens go about their day doing tasks like stopping for gas. Edasha Key, an employee at a BP service station, said all it takes for a conversation to start is for customers to pass by a stack of local newspapers, the Aiken Standard.
“It gets to the point where customers start having conversations between themselves,” Key said. “One feels one way and one feels the other way, but they just share their opinions. It doesn’t get out of hand or anything like that. Everyone just states how they feel.”
Key seems to be one of the few in Aiken who remains undecided about how she’ll be voting in the presidential election, but she does plan to vote and values the weight of her decision.
“Politics, and whatever happens anywhere, affects the whole world, period,” she said.
The South Carolina Democratic primary is Saturday and is open to all registered South Carolina voters.
Best friends and Grumpy’s regulars Steve Price, left, and Laun Davis debated mudslinging, campaign tactics and the best way to store wild hog meat — something both men said they have too much of.
Among the many stickers decorating the walls of the New Moon Cafe were several supporting Democratic candidates, including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Gretchen Hash-Heffner, a local businesswoman, explained how she differentiates between her dislike of President Trump’s personal actions and his political actions, which she thinks has helped her and her husband in the stock market.
Edasha Key, a BP employee, recalled some of the funny interactions she’s had with customers regarding politics.
Supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren placed signs along a busy Aiken road leading to U.S. Highway 1.