South Carolinians Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, along with other presidential hopefuls, are set to address a Christian conservative forum on Saturday and present their vision for 2024 as they eye the White House and aim to make their case to a crucial voting bloc in the early voting state.
The forum, hosted by the Palmetto Family Council, is a chance for speakers to share their stances on issues and engage with conservative voters. But even as Haley, the Palmetto State’s former governor, and Scott, its junior US senator, look to win over their fellow South Carolinians, the two Republicans that have so far dominated the race are notably missing: former president Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, was the first Republican to challenge her former boss for the GOP presidential nomination. She kicked off her campaign last month in Charleston, calling for a new generation of leadership and recently spoke to a packed crowd at Myrtle Beach. She’s tried differentiating herself with her foreign policy experience and has centered her campaign on calling for congressional term limits, stronger border security, fiscal responsibility and increased domestic energy production.
As for Scott, this forum is the latest sign that the Republican senator is testing the waters of the 2024 race. While he has dodged questions about whether he’s planning to run for president, Scott has been laying the groundwork for a campaign by taking his Faith in America “listening tour” to the key voting state of Iowa and South Carolina.
On Saturday, Scott is expected to deliver a speech hitting several themes in the roughly 25 minutes allotted to him, according to a source familiar. The Republican senator will talk about his faith, the role it played in shaping him as an elected official, how he views the country’s direction, including sharp criticism of President Joe Biden’s agenda but ending with a message of redemption and “better days ahead,” the source told CNN.
Speakers are allowed to use the time allotted to them however they wish – either delivering a speech, taking questions from the audience, or a combination of both, according to Justin Hall, Palmetto Family Council’s communications director.
Haley and Scott long have been friends and political allies. In 2012, Haley appointed Scott to the vacant seat left by Sen. Jim DeMint, saying Scott had “earned the seat” from his personality and record. But after Haley announced her presidential bid, Scott declined to endorse her, according to The Post and Courier, in a sign that he could seek the presidency himself. Both had also attended the anti-tax group Club for Growth’s donor retreat in Palm Beach earlier this month alongside other potential GOP candidates.
GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who’s been weighing a presidential run, will also speak at the forum. Former Vice President Mike Pence, another likely 2024 candidate, was invited but is speaking at a foreign policy panel in Iowa the same day. Other potential candidates who also were extended an invitation but don’t plan to attend include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and South Dakota Gov. Kirsti Noem.
Much of the early 2024 conversation has revolved around Trump and DeSantis, who isn’t yet a declared candidate. Both were invited to the Palmetto Family Council forum, but neither is expected to attend, according to Hall.
Trump and DeSantis led a recent CNN poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents of who they’d most likely support for the 2024 Republican nomination. Haley trailed the two at 6%, while Scott was at 2%.
South Carolina was key to Trump’s political rise in 2016. He won the Republican primary there, solidifying his status in a crowded Republican field as the frontrunner. Trump made the state one of his first stops in January in his first appearance on the campaign trail since announcing his bid for reelection.
DeSantis, meanwhile, intends to wait until after the Florida legislative session concludes to decide whether to run for president. His national book tour had stops in Iowa and Nevada, but he has yet to visit South Carolina.
The forum falls a little less than a year out from the crucial South Carolina GOP primary. Republican voters in the state have picked the eventual Republican nominee in nearly every cycle since 1980, except for 2012.
“We believe that the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue runs straight through the Palmetto State,” Hall told CNN, adding that the forum “certainly could jumpstart the campaign push in South Carolina.”
CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this story