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South Carolina Republicans Hear Pitches From 2024 Candidates, Reelect State Party Chairman

Delegates raise red cards to object to a proposal being debated at the South Carolina Republican Party State Convention at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina, May 20, 2023.
Delegates raise red cards to object to a proposal being debated at the South Carolina Republican Party State Convention at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina, May 20, 2023.

South Carolina Republicans on Saturday selected Drew McKissick as their chairman for a fourth term at a convention where some of the party's 2024 presidential hopefuls made pitches to voters in the first-in-the-South primary state.

McKissick has led the party since 2017 in a state where Republicans hold all statewide-elected positions, all but one U.S. House seat, and control of both legislative chambers. He defeated three challengers. Party officials said in a release that under McKissick's leadership, "more Republicans than ever before" had won elections.

Neither of South Carolina's presidential contenders, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, attended the gathering in Lexington, a suburb of Columbia, the capital.

Scott, who entered the race Friday, sent a video that was played for delegates, and a political action committee that backs him sponsored a breakfast for them.

"The GOP, the great opportunity party, is in fact the dominant party in our great state, because of people just like you," said Scott. He encouraged activists to come to his formal campaign launch event Monday in North Charleston so they could be "a part of South Carolina — and hopefully American — history."

If elected, Scott would be the first Black Republican president.

Haley, a former governor who kicked off her campaign in February, did not appear in person or via video. She did get a mention from the rostrum when a McKissick rival noted that Haley had resigned as governor before the end of her second term to join the Trump administration as U.N. envoy.

Several Republicans in race

The Republican Party's 2024 field is expanding, with Scott, Haley, former President Donald Trump and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson already running. Another hopeful, entrepreneur and "anti-woke" activist Vivek Ramaswamy was the sole candidate to address the convention in person.

In a video, Trump said that "now is the time to complete our mission and finish what we started" and "evict Joe Biden from the White House." A video from Never Back Down, a super political action committee supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he prepares to enter the race, showcased DeSantis' background, including his military service and ongoing disputes with the Walt Disney Co., saying the governor has "refused to let Disney push us around."

This past week, Disney announced it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. The decision followed a year of attacks from DeSantis and the Florida Legislature because the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney filed a First Amendment lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials last month.

Top stop

Given its prominent status on the nomination calendar, South Carolina for months has drawn a number of Republican presidential contenders.

Trump visited in January to roll out his South Carolina leadership team, which includes Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. DeSantis made his debut trip last month, drawing hundreds to two events. Former Vice President Mike Pence has come numerous times to a state where support from white evangelical Christians is critical.

Trump's support in the state has remained high since his South Carolina primary victory helped propel him to the 2016 nomination. But Tyler J. Corn, who heads up the Greater Spartanburg Young Republicans, said he's somewhat dubious that those who say they support the former president will vote for him when it comes time to do so next year.

"I think there's a lot of people that realistically say they love Donald Trump who probably end up voting for Ron DeSantis, because I think a lot of [them] believe that he's a proven winner, and the president, they're a little bit more concerned about that," Corn said on the sidelines of the convention. "I've even heard people say, 'Well I love Donald Trump, I just don't love the way he always says things.' And I haven't heard that complaint with Ron DeSantis yet."