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The Trump team is struggling to rally support ahead of the SC event

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Donald Trump advisers have been inundating South Carolina Republican officials with pleading calls in recent weeks in an effort to rally support and attendees for the former president’s first campaign wave of the 2024 cycle next week.

But the calls have spiraled headlong into a complicated new reality: Many of the state’s legislators and political operatives, and even some of its former supporters, are not ready to elect a presidential candidate.

They are divided between their support for Trump, their desire for a competitive battle for the nomination in the state, and their allegiance to two South Carolina residents, former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott, who have taken steps to challenge Trump for the nomination. Both say by people close to them that they are seriously considering an offer, and Haley is expected to announce in the coming weeks, South Carolina agents said.

The result portends a Trump launch event in the early state primary — with an expected endorsement from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) and a reaffirmation of support from Gov. Henry McMaster (R) — that positions the former president as a serious contender, but stops demonstrating the dominance he once enjoyed.

“Nikki Haley is probably our first South Carolina since we voted for George Washington who really had a shot at being president of the United States,” said former South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, a supporter of the former governor, who explained the challenge. “And I think the Trump people will come across that history.”

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Dave Wilson, president of Palmetto Family Council, an influential evangelical group, said “there is more than a little softening” of Trump’s support in South Carolina, saying many were turned off by some of his recent remarks, including the questioning the loyalty of evangelical voters. Wilson said many evangelicals in the state wanted to wait and see who would enter the race.

“A lot of people recognize the importance of the Trump presidency and step back and say, ‘Is there another standard bearer for the party and the issues we believe in?’ Someone who can carry us not only for four years, but for another eight years and create momentum,” he said.

State Party Chairman Drew McKissick will not be attending the Jan. 28 Trump event due to the RNC meeting next week in California, and Rep. Ralph Norman (RS.C.), a close ally of both Trump and Haley, has an earlier pledge on Jan. 28 that he may not be able to break to attend the meeting, according to their advisers. State Party executive director Hope Walker recently turned down a job offer from the Trump campaign because she decided to keep her role for the cycle.

Several other state lawmakers have also told Trump’s team they won’t make it, according to people familiar with the conversations, who, like others for this story, asked for anonymity to describe private conversations. Graham has been trying to rally support for Trump, three people familiar with the calls said, telling people to get on board because he is likely the nominee.

“The Trump campaign is trying to consolidate support. But I don’t think it will go as fast as they think,” said a state lawmaker, who has so far resisted the Trump team’s calls and murmurs of support for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ( right), has heard. “Right now my constituency is just as excited about Ron DeSantis as Donald Trump, if not more so.”

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump’s campaign, said the former president would show his support at the event. “President Trump is going to South Carolina to unveil his leadership team, which will showcase the significant support he has across the state, from grassroots leaders to elected officials,” he said.

The event — which is being held at the State House — has also faced some logistical hurdles, people familiar with the planning say.

Trump’s likely rivals for the nomination are also doing their part to prevent an early Trump dominance. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been running Facebook ads around the state this year promising to “help principled conservatives in South Carolina restore the American Dream!” Former Vice President Mike Pence toured South Carolina last month, capping a year spent working closely with church leaders in the state.

Perhaps the most aggressive was Haley, who worked for Trump as the US ambassador to the United Nations. She gathered more than 30 state legislators, including newly elected leaders she didn’t know during her time as governor, over breakfast in Columbia earlier this month. She was answering questions about her time at the UN and her views on China, according to people familiar with the comments. Days later, she told Fox News that she was seriously considering a presidential campaign announcement, boasting, “I’ve never lost a race.”

“She already has a built-in donor network and knows a lot of the activists, and she really appreciates all those people, but she doesn’t take South Carolina for granted,” said a Republican in the state. “She’s doing the work there in case she decides to run.”

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Haley’s advocacy group, Stand for America, recently hired Suzanne Youngblood Lane, a digital strategist for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to an email Lane sent to colleagues. Lexington, SC, consultant Walter Whetsell is expected to join her campaign when it launches. But in a sign of how competitive the war for talent has become, Tim Chapman, the executive director of Stand for America, told the Associated Press on Friday that he would be leaving to join Pence’s team.

“There is so much shuffling of recliners right now between campaigns,” the state legislature said.

Pence and Pompeo have visited the state regularly, officers and local politicians said. “We’ve seen Mike Pence, we’ve seen Mike Pompeo several times — I understand why Ron DeSantis hasn’t left Florida. He has yet to become governor. But it’s time to get in your car, get on your plane and come to South Carolina,” Wilson said.

Graham and Rep. Russell Fry (RS.C.), who owed his election last year largely to Trump’s support, have joined at least two junior members of the Trump team in outreach across the state, systematically over the past two Republican lawmakers called for weeks. A person familiar with the effort said Graham twisted the arms of congressmen who supported Trump last time. Iowa political operative Alex Latcham has also been calling around to get people to Trump’s event, according to one person who was called.

Trump’s last major event in the state, a spring rally in Florence, drew thousands of supporters, and the invitation to the pre-rally reception boasted 36 co-chairs — a show of strength with the likes of McKissick, Scott and Norman, who are not expected to to be with Trump again at his event. Trump has opted for a much smaller venue this time, the inside of the State House in Columbia, which is expected to seat about 500 people.

Trump has been deliberately hiring since announcing his 2024 candidacy in November, relying on a core group of senior advisers, including longtime adviser Susie Wiles, veteran strategist Chris LaCivita and former White House political director Brian Jack who more recently worked for House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The team has been in no hurry to hire new people, in part because the former president can’t use the money he raised during the midterms for his presidential campaign.

Trump’s team has also been unable to raise money for his presidential campaign on Facebook, a major source of campaign contributions in his previous races, due to a ban imposed on him by the social network for his role in the violence at the Capitol. of the US on January 6. , 2021. A Trump attorney sent a letter to Facebook last week asking for reinstatement. Facebook officials have promised a decision on Trump’s reinstatement in the coming weeks.

Trump has also considered adding a second event in New Hampshire on the same day as Saturday’s event, according to a person familiar with the schedule, with the goal of planting his flag in that state, where Gov. Chris Sununu (R ), a Trump critic, has examined his own presidential campaign. “He’s frustrated with these stories and the story that he’s lazy,” this person said.

Republican advisers in South Carolina agree that Trump will start in a strong position, especially if many candidates remain in the race after the games in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“A two-way race is competitive for Trump. And in a crowded race, Trump has a significant advantage,” said a Republican who reviewed recent data from the state. “There’s only a fraction of the Trump voters that Trump gets anyway.”

But with more than a year to go before the South Carolina primary, a lot could happen that will change the dynamics in the race. Republican consultants in the state say Trump is unlikely to discourage rivals with his Saturday event.

“While I’m sure this will be a show of force, I don’t think he’s going to change the calculus in terms of sitting governors, former governors or sitting members of Congress,” said Rob Godfrey, a prominent South Carolina consultant who Haley, McMaster and others has worked.

Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.

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