For this reporter, SC is a Front Row Seat to Presidential Politics

South Carolina offers a perfect perch from which to watch the national political process, says Meg Kinnard, national politics reporter for the Associated Press, who lives in Blythewood.

Meg Kinnard presenting award to Joseph Bustos. | Contributed

“I like that my job gives me the opportunity to have a front-row seat to some of the most important things that are happening in our country,” says Kinnard, who has covered politics in the South for many years.

“I get to interview Presidents and people who want to be President and people in positions of power at all levels, from mayors to congressmen to business leaders, and all of that. As a poli sci [political science] nerd, that is really, really fascinating,” she says.

“Maybe just as important to that, though, is the opportunity as a politics journalist to talk to voters, to talk to citizens who, especially in a place like South Carolina where we have access to so many people seeking to be the next President of the United States, to talk to people who are listening to firsthand and seeing firsthand and talking firsthand to all those candidates and hearing what’s important to them.”

As the 2024 U.S. Presidential election season gears up, Kinnard says she looks forward to seeing the parade of candidates through South Carolina, which is an early-voting state in the Presidential primary process that selects the candidates for each political party.

She says politics has always been part of her world. A Tennessee native, Kinnard says she was exposed to politics from an early age through her grandfather, a long-serving member of Congress from rural western Tennessee, and she recalls visiting her grandparents in Washington, D.C., as a youngster.

In college, she says, she joined the College Democrats and College Republicans simultaneously, hoping to understand a variety of opinions on political issues. She was also in the process of discovering journalism, which would turn out to be her calling.

When she first went to work for the campus newspaper, she says, she viewed it as a way to spend time with friends. But it turned out she really liked the opportunity it offered to keep her finger on the pulse of the campus and have a front-row seat to the decision-making process.

There, she says, “I kind of got the journalism bug.”

After graduating from Georgetown University, she went to work for National Journal, a magazine with a focus on federal policy and policymakers. From there she went to the Associated Press, where she’s now worked for 18 years, in South Carolina.

She says she doesn’t want to live anywhere else – from a personal as well as professional standpoint.

“This is a state that plays a vital role in who becomes President, either on the Republican side of things or on the Democratic side,” she says. “Regardless of party, this state has a vital role in our nation’s politics, and I get to cover it all. It has been a very interesting, never dull ride.”

In the current environment of intense polarization in American politics, she says, old-school journalism – where truth and objectivity rule – is more important than ever.

To that end, the past two years, she and her husband, Geoffrey, have endowed an award (a $1,000 cash prize) through the S.C. Press Association in memory of her friend and colleague, the late Jim Davenport, a tenacious AP reporter, who was known for his fair and aggressive coverage of state government and political matters.

Earlier this month, she and her husband presented the award to Joseph Bustos, a reporter with The State newspaper.

She says she knows she’s doing a good job as a reporter when her e-mail inbox contains equal critiques from all sides.

So, it should be no surprise that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, after more than three years of having her symptoms dismissed, she did what you’d expect of an award-winning journalist: she dug for more information.

She got a second opinion from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston – and she credits that with saving her life after the cancer experts there diagnosed her with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer that would require extensive treatment.

“I decided to seek a second opinion… because I just had a feeling that there might be something more going on,” she says. “[Being diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer] was a gut punch, that was a shock on top of a shock, but it also came with a bit of relief because I felt like I had gotten to the bottom of what had been nagging me since 2017.”

During her treatment – 16 rounds of chemotherapy, an extensive surgery, and 44 rounds of radiation — she wrote stories from hospital beds and did television interviews – and beat the cancer.

Now recovered and looking ahead as the 2024 political season gears up, Kinnard says South Carolina is the perfect place to watch it unfold.

“It’s gonna be busy. Certainly South Carolina is always a busy place when Presidential cycles roll around, but for 2024, things, I think, are going to be even busier than usual,” she says.

“For one, former Gov. Nikki Haley is already in the field on the Republican side, and it’s highly anticipated that Sen. Tim Scott is going to be joining her, so we will potentially have two South Carolinians competing for the Republican nomination in a state that is already known to be receiving visits from just about everyone in the field,” she says.

“You also have, on the Democratic side, two things. One, the Democratic primary held here will be not just the first in the South but the first in the nation, for that party. South Carolina, as we all know, was the scene of Joe Biden’s biggest primary win in 2020, in terms of the momentum it gave him to continue in the race and ultimately win the nomination for himself, so he’s a big figure here and has a top ally in Jim Clyburn, who is our state’s sole congressional Democrat.”

Regardless of the outcome, she says this political cycle will be one to remember – and she’s looking forward to watching it unfold.

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