In the 2024 campaign, kingmaker role again for South Carolina?

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) — South Carolina is used to heightened attention in the years leading up to presidential elections, with the state hosting the South’s first-ballot contests in several of the last few cycles.

But even by those standards, 2024 feels different.

Democrats elevated South Carolina to the top of their presidential primary calendar, skipping Iowa and New Hampshire. Republicans, meanwhile, could potentially have two South Carolina homegrown presidential candidates in the race, a prospect that has already caused friction among the state’s GOP circles of supporters.

A look at why so many political paths to 2024 will lead to South Carolina:


Earlier this month, the Democratic National Committee approved its 2024 calendar, an effort to give a prominent voice to a more diverse electorate.

President Joe Biden had approved a plan puts South Carolina first on the party’s calendar for the upcoming presidential cycle, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia.

Biden’s acknowledgment of the role South Carolina played in revive his 2020 campaignafter less-than-stellar performances in previous voting states, has been clear since his victory celebration three years ago in February.

“You brought me back,” Biden told supporters. His win created momentum that helped him plow through the Super Tuesday votes that followed.

Last year, in a fundraiser for South Carolina Democrats, Vice President Kamala Harris offered her gratitude, says: “We’re watching the South Carolina Democrats put President Joe Biden and me on a path to the White House. … Thanks, South Carolina.”

The Biden administration has close ties to the state, where Biden’s roots run deep and include family vacations to the state, as well as friendships with late Sens. Fritz Hollings and Strom Thurmond and attorney Dick Harpootlian, a former state party chairman who is now a state senator.

On Monday, Harris will return to South Carolina to discuss the administration’s progress on broadband Internet expansion, a top priority for Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of Biden’s closest allies and the lone Democrat in South Carolina’s congressional delegation. Other government officials visited last year.

While South Carolina Democrats haven’t won a statewide race since 2006, they’ve begun selling buttons, mugs and apparel touting the state’s new status with the slogan “South Carolina Democrats Pick Winners.” But the party is in a transition period, with chairman Trav Robertson announced this past week that he would not seek another term after six years in the job.

Looking ahead, Robertson noted the regional economic impact that could be felt from the early position of South Carolina, where media markets — and campaign advertising dollars spent in them — bleed into surrounding states.

“We have long advocated that South Carolina’s position in this process has been extremely beneficial to North Carolina and Georgia and to Tennessee,” Robertson told The Associated Press. “The consequence of this will be felt for a generation.”



Nikki Haley’s official launch to her 2024 presidential campaign, in downtown Charleston two weeks ago, was peppered with references to her six years as South Carolina’s governor.

“It’s a great day in South Carolina!” Haley said, a nod to her gubernatorial order, which she at one time required state cabinet agencies to use when answering public phone lines.

Haley, the first woman and Indian American to lead the state, also wrapped herself in references to achievements during her tenure, including job creation. She mentioned leading the state “beyond hatred and violence,” a reference to the shooting of a unarmed black motorist by a white police officer and the murders of nine black parishioners of a self-proclaimed white supremacy.

She didn’t mention it explicitly removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015 after the church shootings, a move she pushed for after years of public support for keeping the flag up.

With former President Donald Trump already in the 2024 race, Haley — who served two years as his U.N. ambassador — the first great republican to challenge him for the nomination.

Some of South Carolina’s top Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, have endorsed Trump, whose 2016 victory in South Carolina’s primary helped bolster GOP support for his campaign.

Haley has lined up the support of at least one member of the state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Ralph Norman. Rep. Nancy Mace, who Haley endorsed for re-election last year, has said that so far “my powder is dry” when it comes to the 2024 White House race.

But Tim Scott, South Carolina’s junior senator, has taken steps that appear to put him on the brink of formalizing his own 2024 bid. The day after Haley’s launch, Scott himself was in Charleston, speaking at a Charleston County GOP- dinner, which his team characterized as part of a “listening trip”. Days later, both he and Haley were in Iowa, which has the GOP’s first 2024 votes.

Scott’s potential entry into the race has led to some awkwardness among state Republicans, many of whom have been supporters of both him and Haley.

Catherine Templeton, who served in Haley’s administration, said Haley and Scott are calling state Republicans seeking support, a process she characterized as “uncomfortable.”

“In general, a Scott Republican and a Haley Republican are pretty similar creatures, but it’s a game of addition, so both candidates are deferential,” Templeton said. “They say, ‘If I can’t be your first, I want to be your second’. You don’t want to find them criticizing each other, but in the end it’s uncomfortable to choose between friends.”

Templeton won’t say who she plans to support and says she expects a similar waiting game among GOP voters and donors in South Carolina.

“People are waiting to see what Tim does before they make a decision,” she said. “But Nikki is both ways.”



The 2024 season starts only in South Carolina, like the other early states. Next month, the state will host one of the first leadoff, multi-candidate events when the Palmetto Family sponsors its Vision ’24 conference in Charleston.

So far, one announced candidate — Haley — is scheduled to attend, though potential candidates, including Scott and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, are set to come. Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are among those who have yet to respond.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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