CHARLESTON, S.C. – For over four decades, South Carolina’s played a crucial role in determining the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
Voting third in the GOP’s nominating calendar — after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — South Carolina’s Republican contest boasts an impressive track record. Dating back to its inception in 1980, only once has the eventual GOP standard-bearer failed to carry the Palmetto State. That was in 2012, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich topped then-former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who went on to win the nomination.
This cycle South Carolina may take on heightened prominence, as not only one but potentially two of its top Republican politicians may be running for the GOP nomination
“It will be the real battleground before we get into Super Tuesday in March of next year,” predicted Dave Wilson, a social conservative leader and head of the Columbia, South Carolina-based Palmetto Family Council.
Former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson stressed that his state’s Republican presidential primary is “going to be the real deal.”
Dawson is supporting former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the GOP 2024 nomination race.
Declaring “it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during former President Donald Trump’s administration, jumped into the race for the White House on Tuesday, announcing her Republican presidential bid in a campaign video released on social media.
Haley, who’s expected to formally declare her candidacy at an event in her hometown of Charleston on Wednesday, joined Trump as the only major Republicans to date to launch campaigns.
Trump stopped in South Carolina late last month, as part of his first campaign swing of his third White House run, to unveil his leadership team in the early voting state and showcase the support he’s getting from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and senior Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who appears to be gearing up towards a 2024 campaign launch, has stopped in South Carolina nearly ten times the past two years and has solid relations with social conservative voters in the state, who play an outsized role in GOP primary politics. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another likely White House contender, has also been a frequent visitor, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – who’s seen his standing among conservatives nationwide soar in recent years and who’s also likely to join the race in the coming months, is popular in the state.
Haley remains very popular among South Carolina Republicans, but she might not enjoy homefield advantage.
Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and a rising star in the GOP, is taking concrete steps towards a potential campaign launch.
Scott will be in Charleston the day after Haley’s campaign kick-off, to begin a listening tour, which was first reported by Fox News earlier this month. And Scott travels next week to Iowa — the state whose caucuses kick off the GOP’s presidential nominating calendar — to deliver an address on faith in America. He’s also launching digital ads in Iowa.
The potentially growing field of candidates with strong ties to South Carolina, as well as the prospects of two hometown contenders, would raise the stature — and the stakes — of the Palmetto State primary even higher.
Matt Moore, a former chairman and executive director of the South Carolina GOP who’s worked for both Scott and Haley, told Fox News that the Republican Party “is sorting out its direction, and the South Carolina primary may settle it.”
And when the dust settles next year following the South Carolina primary, Dawson predicts that “two or three people will leave South Carolina. It won’t be just one.”