Trump kicks off 2024 race with disruptions in early voting states

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – Former President Donald Trump will kick off his 2024 White House bid on Saturday with visits to a pair of early-voting states, his first campaign events since announcing his latest run. from two months ago.

Trump will be the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire GOP annual meeting before traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, where he will introduce his state leadership team. New Hampshire and South Carolina run two of the party’s top three nomination contests, giving them enormous power in candidate selection.

Trump and his allies hope events offer a show of strength behind the former president after a slow start to his campaign that has left many questioning his commitment to run again. In recent weeks, his supporters have reached out to political operatives and elected officials to pledge support for Trump at a critical time when other Republicans are preparing their own expected challenges.

“The gun is fired and election season has begun,” said Stephen Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and co-chair of the 2016 Trump campaign in the state.

While Trump remains the only presidential candidate declared for 2024, potential challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was the ambassador of Trump at the United Nations, they should start their campaign in the coming months.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster, US Senator Lindsey Graham and several members of the state’s congressional delegation plan to attend Saturday’s event at the Statehouse. But Trump’s team has struggled to gain the support of state lawmakers, even some who have enthusiastically backed him during previous sessions.

Some said more than a year away from the primary ballot it is too early to make endorsements or that they are waiting to see who else enters the race. Others said it was time for the party to step over Trump and move on to a new generation of leadership.

Republican State Representative RJ May, vice chair of the South Carolina state House Freedom Caucus, said he would not attend Trump’s event because he was focused on that group’s legislative fight with the GOP caucus. He has indicated that he is open to other candidates in the 2024 race.

“I think we are going to have a very strong slate of candidates here in South Carolina,” said May, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. She added, “I would 100% take a Donald Trump over Joe Biden.”

Dave Wilson, chairman of the conservative Christian nonprofit Palmetto Family, said some conservative voters might be concerned about Trump’s recent comments that Republicans who opposed abortion without exception had cost the party in the November election. .

“It makes some people within the conservative ranks of the Republican Party think about whether or not the process should resolve itself,” said Wilson, whose group hosted Pence for a speech in 2021. He added, “You continue to have to earn your vote Nothing is taken for granted”.

Acknowledging that Trump “did some phenomenal things when he was president,” such as securing a conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, Wilson said South Carolina’s GOP voters might be looking for “a candidate who can be the standard bearer not only for now, but to build ongoing momentum across America for conservatism over the next few decades.

But Gerri McDaniel, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and will attend Saturday’s event, rejected the notion that voters were ready to leave the former president.

“Some media keep saying he is losing his support. No, it’s not,” she said. “It’s just going to be bigger than it was because there are so many people who are angry about what’s happening in Washington.”

The South Carolina event, in a government building surrounded by elected officials, is somewhat off-brand for a former reality television star who typically favors large gatherings and has tried to cultivate an image from outsiders. But the reality is that Trump is a former president who is trying to reclaim the White House by pitting him against the current administration.

Demonstrations are also expensive, and Trump, who is notoriously thrifty, added new financial challenges when he decided to start his campaign in November, much earlier than many allies had urged. This leaves him subject to strict fundraising regulations and prevents him from using his well-funded PAC leadership to pay for such events, which can cost several million dollars.

Officials expect Trump to speak in the Statehouse’s second-floor lobby, an opulent ceremonial area between the House and Senate chambers.

The venue has hosted some of South Carolina’s most notable political news moments, including Haley’s 2015 signing of a bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds and McMaster’s 2021 signing of legislation banning abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy. The state Supreme Court recently declared the abortion law unconstitutional and McMaster pledged to seek a new hearing.

Trump’s fledgling campaign has already sparked controversy, particularly when he dined with white nationalist Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a number of anti-Semitic comments. Trump was also widely mocked for selling a series of digital trading cards that depicted him as a superhero, a cowboy, and an astronaut, among others.

At the same time, he is the subject of a series of criminal investigations, including one into the discovery of hundreds of confidentially marked documents at his Florida club and whether he obstructed justice by refusing to return them, as well as state and federal scrutiny of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

However, Trump remains the only candidate announced for 2024 and early polls show he is the favorite to win his party’s nomination.

Stepanek, whose term ends on Saturday, was expected to remain neutral as New Hampshire party chairman. He dismissed the significance of Trump’s slow start, which campaign officials say represents the time it takes to put the infrastructure in place for a national campaign.

In New Hampshire, he said, “there was a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement” about Trump’s re-election. He said Trump’s staunchest supporters continue to support him.

“There are a lot of people who weren’t with him in ’15, ’16, then they became Trumpers, then they became ever Trumpers,” Stepanek said. “But the people who supported him in New Hampshire, who propelled him to victory in the 2016 New Hampshire primary, are all still there, waiting for the president.”


Colvin reported from New York.

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