No comic relief for South Carolina vote

Times Staff Writer

Stephen Colbert’s bid to formally join the presidential race in South Carolina was rejected Thursday by the state’s Democratic Party leaders, who said that the late-night comedian’s candidacy would distract from the serious business of picking a presidential nominee.

The executive council of the South Carolina Democratic Party voted 13-3 to keep Colbert off the January primary ballot, saying the Comedy Central star did not meet guidelines requiring a candidate to be viable and to campaign actively for the job. Dissenters suggested their colleagues lacked a sense of humor.

The panel found that eight other Democrats -- including former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio -- were worthy of spots on the ballot for the vote, now scheduled for Jan. 26. Colbert’s $2,500 filing fee will be refunded.


“He clearly doesn’t meet the requirements,” said Waring Howe Jr., one of the executive council member who voted against Colbert. “It’s a distraction and takes away from the seriousness of our primary here and takes attention from the serious candidates: Clinton, Edwards, Barack Obama and the rest.”

Howe added that he thought that Colbert “might be trying to use us . . . to achieve some kind of status he doesn’t really deserve.”

Thursday night Colbert devoted much of his program to his planned campaign in South Carolina and then reacted with strong faux emotion when a Democratic official called him mid-show with the news that he had been rejected. “It’s your loss Democrats,” Colbert said. “I had a lot of good ideas.”

Colbert, in the persona of the right-wing talk show host he plays on “The Colbert Report,” has been threatening for months to enter the presidential race. He officially “declared” his candidacy Oct. 16 and said he would run only in his native South Carolina.

Colbert visited the state last weekend, appearing before students at the University of South Carolina and at a reception for Democratic activists, including some members of the party’s executive council.

Before a noon Thursday deadline, a Colbert representative filed the appropriate papers and paid the registration fee. The Democratic executive council also received a two-page letter in which the would-be candidate made “a last appeal” to their “sense of humor and fair play.”

Acknowledging that his candidacy might seem like a “mockery,” Colbert argued that he would serve up some good, along with laughs -- by urging the many young people who watch his show to register to vote, by promoting his native state and its products, and by directing donations to local charities.

Colbert pledged to keep attention focused on the state, even if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) renders the primary less significant after “she crushes her rivals in Iowa like stone-ground yellow grits.”

But executive council members were apparently more swayed by a letter from Donald L. Fowler. The former state and national party chairman wrote that Colbert had failed to register with the Federal Election Commission, to maintain a campaign staff in South Carolina and to meet other requirements to establish a viable campaign.

“He seeks to make a travesty of our primary,” one that could even taint the value of a victory by a mainstream candidate there, Fowler wrote.

Colbert told his audience Wednesday that the Republicans’ $35,000 entry fee was too expensive for his campaign -- which was trying to remain under a $5,000 federal limit -- and that he would not file for the GOP primary.