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Nikki Haley, Tim Scott get SC to themselves as 2024 GOP race heats up

GOP presidential contender and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., right, walks by Casey DeSantis, wife of GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, as he speaks at Rep. Jeff Duncan's Faith & Freedom BBQ fundraiser on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Meg Kinnard/AP
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AP
GOP presidential contender and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., right, walks by Casey DeSantis, wife of GOP rival and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, as he speaks at Rep. Jeff Duncan's Faith & Freedom BBQ fundraiser on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

South Carolina natives Nikki Haley and Tim Scott had the early-voting state to themselves Aug. 28 as each court voters for the GOP presidential nomination.

ANDERSON, S.C. — Anderson County’s Mike and Jamie Pavey backed the former president in 2020.

They describe themselves as “kind of Trumpers.”

But with the latest criminal charges stacked up against Donald Trump, the Upstate couple said they’re keeping an open mind about who to support in South Carolina’s Feb. 24 presidential primary.

That’s because, they added, they’re not quite sure what impact the charges against Trump will mean for his third White House bid.

“I’ve always been a guy that liked Trump, but he’s in such hot water at the moment,” said Mike Pavey, who described himself as “old” and said he sells commercial real estate. “I’m going to wait and see.”

That’s good news for the rest of the GOP 2024 field, where Trump is still polling first.

It’s even better news for former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who had their home state to themselves Monday after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis canceled his campaign stops to deal with an incoming hurricane and the aftermath of a racist triple killing over the weekend.

Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to voters in Indian Land, S.C., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Haley is running for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.
Scott Morgan
Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to voters in Indian Land, S.C., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Haley is running for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

The South Carolina natives dotted parts of the early-voting state Monday.

Scott made stops in Charleston, Lexington and Greenville before speaking to a 2,000-plus crowd at U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan’s annual fundraiser, the Faith and Freedom BBQ in Anderson.

DeSantis was scheduled to headline the barbecue GOP event. His wife, Casey, a College of Charleston graduate, spoke instead.

In Anderson, Scott criticized America’s response to China, less restrictive abortion bans and teachers unions to name a few. But he also sought to separate his views on the country and its future at the same event that DeSantis said “our country is in decline” in a recorded video played before his wife spoke.

“But in America, we are not a nation in decline,” Scott said Monday. “Under President Biden, we are a nation in retreat.”

Haley, meanwhile, spoke to a large crowd near the South Carolina-North Carolina border in Indian Land, enjoying that post-debate bump.

“Did any of you happen to watch the debate? You know, bless his heart,” Haley said, referring to challenger and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who Haley called out repeatedly at the first debate over his foreign policy knowledge. “I know I wear a skirt, but y’all have seen me at work. If you say something that is totally off the wall, I’m going to call you out on it every single time.”

A Haley backer, Jeanne Ockers said the former governor could break through the crowded field that includes DeSantis, seen tied with Haley and Scott in some past South Carolina primary polls.

What about Trump, who picked Haley in 2017 to be his ambassador to the United Nations?

“Trump, I don’t know,” Ockers said. “I don’t understand why people are so gung ho Trump.”

“It’s between her and Ron DeSantis, in my opinion. I think she has a good shot of winning it,” Dave Gatton, another voter at Haley's event, said. “And if she doesn’t, I think she has a good shot of whoever wins it asking her to be on the ticket, if she desires to be there, as vice president.”

GOP presidential contender and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks at Rep. Jeff Duncan's Faith & Freedom BBQ fundraiser on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
GOP presidential contender and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks at Rep. Jeff Duncan's Faith & Freedom BBQ fundraiser on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Back at the Anderson sports/entertainment complex where tables were covered with American flags and DeSantis signs, Duncan said Monday he’s not planning to endorse any candidate before the primary.

Anyone is better than Biden, the Laurens Republican said.

“My friendships with all these people mean more to me than endorsing. My endorsement ain’t going to mean that much in the big scheme of things. It will bring some juice, maybe, in South Carolina. But they’ve got the other endorsements. They’re fine, and I’m just going to stay neutral.”

And for some voters at Duncan’s event, earlier eager to see DeSantis — all said they were glad he stayed in Florida as Hurricane Idalia neared the state — they said it’s still too early to say 100% who they’ll back about six months from now.

“I personally have not made up my mind yet. I have been a Trump supporter from Day One,” Gwen Rush, 67, said. "But I always said that if DeSantis should run for president, that I would support him because he seems to share Donald Trump's views on the way things should be — but he’s a little more settled."

Scott Morgan contributed to this report.

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.