by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Former Vice President Mike Pence is dropping anchor in South Carolina as he prepares to mount a 2024 White House bid.
Pence is headed back to the Palmetto State in April and May as part of a deliberate strategy to build support with conservative activists and Republican operatives in the state that hosts the third primary on the GOP nominating calendar — and first in the South. Leading this effort is the plugged-in national Republican strategist Chip Saltsman as well as Josh Kimbrell, a state senator described as an “ambassador” for Pence in South Carolina, with other party insiders quietly assisting.
“Vice President Pence is galvanizing his relationships in South Carolina with the evangelical community, which is a strong move on his part to begin to possibly shore up a base for a possible presidential run,” said Dave Wilson, president of the Palmetto Family Council, a prominent conservative group that hosted Pence early last year when he chose South Carolina for his first public event after exiting the West Wing.
Wilson and his group are neutral in the unfolding 2024 GOP primary campaign.
Pence has traveled extensively since President Joe Biden was inaugurated a little over a year ago, visiting the crucial early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, as well as South Carolina. But Pence has treated the Palmetto State with special care compared to some of the other potential Republican presidential candidates, visiting multiple times. It’s a sensible strategy.
Since 1980, the winner of the South Carolina primary has captured the nomination, except for 2012 when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bested Mitt Romney. The state has a good mix of social and fiscal conservatives and national security hawks, who are influential in GOP presidential primaries and inclined toward Republicans like Pence.