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DeSantis becomes first major party candidate to enter South Carolina's 2024 presidential primary

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on Monday, July 17, 2023, in Tega Cay, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on Monday, July 17, 2023, in Tega Cay, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed paperwork on Tuesday for South Carolina's Republican primary, becoming the first major party presidential candidate officially on the ballot for the first-in-the-South contest.

DeSantis signed his filing documents during a stop at the South Carolina Republican Party headquarters in Columbia, flanked by supporters including state legislators who have endorsed his bid.

The filing comes at a consequential moment for DeSantis and his campaign as the governor makes his third swing through South Carolina as a White House hopeful. He entered the race in May with expectations that he would become the primary threat to former President Donald Trump. But DeSantis has struggled to make inroads against Trump, who holds a commanding lead in the primary, and recently began cutting campaign staff.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he rejected suggestions that his campaign might have grown too big in its early stages.

“At the end of the day, when you when you start there are certain investments that you make,” he said. “We really believe having an important apparatus on the ground is important in caucus states and early states.”

DeSantis opened his swing through South Carolina on Monday, holding an event in Tega Cay, an affluent community on Lake Wylie along the state line with North Carolina.

After about a half hour of remarks, in which he hit on the high points of his stump speech, DeSantis also took a handful of questions from the crowd of about 900 gathered to hear him. Questioners included a woman who described herself a “hardcore Trump supporter” who said the 2024 election represented “the most important vote that we’re going to have” and that she felt DeSantis “did an excellent job” making the case for his candidacy.

In his response, DeSantis condemned what he has characterized as the “weaponization of government” in the legal cases being brought against Trump, echoing a line the former president has honed in his own speeches following his indictment on federal charges.

“I appreciate what President Trump did. ... He was treated wrong, he was treated in ways that are unconstitutional,” DeSantis said. "Here’s the thing — the question for us now is, what are we going to do about it? ... It’s not about me, it’s about you. It’s about me standing up for you and standing up for the Constitution and restoring this country to what the founding fathers envisioned.”

Later Tuesday in West Columbia, DeSantis — a former Navy officer who served in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps in Iraq — planned to to roll out his plans to reform a U.S. military he has argued is too focused on efforts at diversity and inclusion.

On Monday night, DeSantis previewed those plans, saying that as commander in chief he would be “ripping the woke out” of a military that today is full of “social experimentation, ideology, woke agenda, pronouns, drag queens.” The rollout, along with a rare press conference, was planned for a stop at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. The nonprofit, founded by retired military leaders, says on its website it aims to "honor past aviation pioneers and inspire future space and aviation pioneers” through a STEM outreach program directed at K-12 students.

The rollout is DeSantis' second official policy pronouncement of the campaign. In June, he outlined his immigration proposals — which call for ending birthright citizenship and finishing construction of the southern border wall — during a visit to a Texas border city.

South Carolina is set to hold its GOP presidential primary Feb. 24. The state, which also boasts two homegrown 2024 candidates of its own — former Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott — is critical for Republican presidential hopefuls and has been a strong base of support for Trump in his previous campaigns.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP