COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Just a few days after the first GOP presidential debate of the 2024 cycle, two of the contenders will be hitting the same stage in front of the largest annual gathering of Republicans in early-voting South Carolina.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had already been set as the headliner at the Faith & Freedom BBQ, hosted by Rep. Jeff Duncan on Aug. 28. On Thursday, Duncan told The Associated Press that Sen. Tim Scott — invited in his capacity as a South Carolina senator, not presidential hopeful — had also accepted an opportunity to speak, as he has done in years past.
The event, which takes place in a massive civic center and attracts more than 2,000 attendees, comes five days after Scott, DeSantis and others in the broad GOP field are set to participate in the first debate of the 2024 cycle in Milwaukee.
Former President Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, has indicated he’s unlikely to attend and may hold a competing event of his own. The debate also comes during a week in which Trump and the 18 co-defendants charged alongside him earlier this week in a Georgia case are required to surrender themselves to authorities on allegations of meddling in the 2020 election results.
Duncan’s event, a fundraiser benefiting his reelection campaign, has long been a showcase for possible White House contenders, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, then-Vice President Mike Pence, Sens. Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst and Marco Rubio, and former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s now part of the 2024 field.
In a state where success has historically been a catalyst for GOP presidential nominees, the South Carolina venue provides DeSantis an opportunity to make his case in front of a large number of party activists, with whom Trump — who earlier this month headlined the state Republican Party’s annual fundraiser — remains popular.
But it’s not just the headliner who draws attention. Last year, before Pompeo’s keynote, Scott gave a rousing speech that drew thunderous applause from the barbecue crowd.
The opportunity to address a crowd of thousands in his home state — which holds the first GOP presidential primary in the South — comes as Scott’s presidential campaign prepares to kick in to high gear in the closing months before the first votes are cast next year.
On Thursday, Scott’s campaign told the AP that it had purchased $8 million in ad space in the critical early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, planning a television, radio and digital campaign that would run through the end of November. That purchase comes on the heels of a $6 million ad buy the campaign launched as Scott kicked off his campaign in May.
It also follows major spending by a super political action committee backing Scott, which began a $7.25 million television and digital ad buy when he entered the race. When that ends on Labor Day, the group’s $40 million reservation in early-state air time will begin.
Scott’s campaign has long stressed that his strong ability to fundraise, coupled with the more than $20 million he transferred to his presidential coffers from his Senate campaign account, would mean their candidate could stay on the air in key states in ways others might not be able to.
As DeSantis and Scott prepare to both take the stage at the event hosted by Duncan — one of only two Republicans in South Carolina’s delegations not already aligned with a presidential candidate — voters in the state are still mulling their options.
At a DeSantis event in Greenville, South Carolina, earlier this summer, businessman Dean Estep said he’s currently backing the Florida governor, and already has a running mate for him in mind.
“Tim Scott’s a first class guy,” Estep said, before the question about who he’d like to see on a ticket with DeSantis was even finished. “He’s just a picture of America.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.