By Alina Selyukh and Harriet McLeod
WASHINGTON/CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan 19 (Reuters) -
Late-night TV comedian Stephen Colbert is urging his South
Carolina fans to cast votes in Saturday's Republican U.S.
presidential primary for former candidate Herman Cain, a way
Colbert says he will gauge support for his own mock presidential
Who is not laughing? South Carolina Democrats.
The state's open primary allows Democrats and independents
to vote in the Republican primary, and Colbert earlier this week
called on his home state supporters to cast votes for Cain. The
former pizza executive suspended his campaign in December amid
allegations of sexual harassment and infidelity but remains on
"They're keeping me off the ballot on the technicality that
I'm two-and-a-half months late to file. Fine, split hairs,"
Colbert said on his "The Colbert Report" TV show on Comedy
The unamused state Democratic Party shot back with an email
titled "NO to GOP Primary": "The South Carolina Democratic
Party... DOES NOT encourage people to vote in the Republican
The pro-Colbert Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow,
Tomorrow, has already spent $65,600 on advertising in South
Carolina. Political action committees (PACs) are groups with
great clout in U.S. politics that are legally separate from
A statewide poll by the nonpartisan Justice at Stake
Campaign found 7 percent of Republican-leaning voters saying
they would definitely vote for Colbert in Saturday's primary if
his name were on the ballot.
After Colbert called on all to take part in the open
primary, his "exploratory" campaign mobilized with Internet
outreach and the Super PAC launched a new ad to drum up support
The Democrats' concerns are no laughing matter. Voting for
Colbert via Cain would stir up the voter files, likely landing
Democrats' contacts in Republican fundraising and mailing
Besides, Democrats also are hoping South Carolinians turn
out to vote for President Barack Obama in their own Jan. 28
primary. Double-dipping in the two primaries is not allowed.
The local Republican Party, on the other hand, appears happy
to play along.
"I'm enjoying watching it all," South Carolina Republican
Party Chairman Chad Connelly told Reuters. "I like Stephen, he's
a potential donor. ... We'd love to have a huge voter turnout."
Connelly said the party is not making special preparations
in expectation of extra voters and was skeptical about
translating the tally of Cain votes, which will be counted and
reported, into Colbert's success.
"I'm not sure how Stephen is going to separate out the
people who vote for Cain because he said so and people who vote
because they like Cain," Connelly said.
Cain, for his part, is in the on the joke, scheduled to
appear alongside Colbert at his rally "in support of their
non-candidacies" in Charleston on Friday.
"Together, these two unique voices will declare that they
are the same man," read the press release for the event.
Cain's campaign could not be immediately reached for
comment, but the candidate tweeted he would make an
"unconventional endorsement" at the Southern Republican
Leadership Conference later on Thursday.
(Editing by Will Dunham)
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