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Why South Carolina matters in the 2024 GOP primary

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The 2024 presidential election is a year and a half away. Still, several Republican presidential hopefuls are already making stops in key primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a stop in South Carolina on Wednesday. He talked about his work in Florida, arguing that much of what he’s done there can work for the U.S. as a whole. 

Desantis hasn’t officially declared his candidacy yet, but many South Carolinians want to see him and former president Donald Trump face off.

 “I’m undecided personally,” one attendee of Wednesday’s event told Fox News.

“I’m swayed toward Trump, but I think DeSantis is a close second, and only time will tell where both of them stand,” said another attendee.

DeSantis at SC coffee shop

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis poses for a photo with Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, Dorchester County GOP Chairman Steven Wright, and Coastal Coffee Roasters owner Brad Mallett in Summerville, South Carolina, on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (Ron DeSantis)

 This was DeSantis’s first public visit to South Carolina ahead of the 2024 election. 

“I believe if the left is able to run the table in these 2024 elections, their agenda is going to be a radical agenda,” DeSantis said to a crowd at the event, which was held at First Baptist North Spartanburg in the Palmetto State.

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Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations

Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, during an event in Charleston, South Carolina, US, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Haley, a former South Carolina governor and Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN, announced she was challenging the former president for their party’s presidential nomination, claiming the mantle of younger leadership.  (Photographer: Sam Wolfe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The governor talked about some of his bigger challenges, like responding to Covid-19, immigration issues, and his feud with Disney. 

South Carolina is important not only because it’s an early primary state.

“Its voters generally reflect those of the Republican voters nationwide,” said Robert Oldendick of the University of South Carolina.

Since 1980, South Carolina primary voters have correctly chosen the eventual Republican nominee in every election except for 2012, when Newt Gingrich beat Mitt Romney. But South Carolinians will likely see a couple of familiar faces running this time around.

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Former President Donald Trump

Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, US, on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. (Sam Wolfe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Former Ambassador to the U.N. and former South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, already declared her run for office. U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is another likely candidate. 

But a home stage advantage is no guarantee. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio challenged Donald Trump in Rubio’s home state of Florida in the 2016 primary.

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“And he lost, I believe, every single county except for his own and maybe a few others,” said Dr. James Wallner of Clemson University.

“As we talk about this today, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis are also the two kind of front runners in South Carolina,” Oldendick said.

DeSantis did not mention Trump during his speech on Wednesday. The South Carolina Republican primary takes place in February 2024.

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