SC's Presidential Primary | This Week in South Carolina

On this episode of This Week in South Carolina, take a inside look at the first-in-the-south republican presidential primary.


Gavin Jackson:  Welcome to a This Week in South Carolina Special Report. I'm Gavin Jackson. We have passed Labor Day on the calendar, which means the attention on the 2024 campaign trail is heating up, as is our comprehensive coverage of the race, which runs right through South Carolina on February 24th as a field of candidates and a popular front runner, vie for the Republican presidential nomination. Over the summer, we saw several candidates make visits to the Palmetto State, and the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, including our two homegrown candidates, Senator Tim Scott, and former Governor Nikki Haley, who was in Moncks Corner in June.

<Nikki Haley> You know, I just dropped my husband off at 4am this morning, for a deployment for a year, and when I dropped him off, and you saw those buses, you saw men and women loading up, to deploy to protect our freedoms, because America is the experiment that our men and women are willing to fight for.

Gavin Jackson:  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, this summer defended the state's public school curriculum on Black history that says enslaved people, quote, "developed skills, which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit."

<<Ron DeSantis>> to them about it. I didn't do it, and I wasn't involved in it. But I think...what they're doing is I think that they're probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life, but the reality is, all of that is rooted in whatever is factual. They listed everything out, and if you have any questions about it, just ask the Department of Education. You can talk about those folks, but I mean, these were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was ...done politically,

<Sen.Tim Scott> It is essentially, as a country founded upon freedom, the greatest deprivation of freedom was slavery. There is - there's no silver lining in freedom, in slavery. The truth is anything you can learn that any benefits that people suggested had during slavery, you would have had as a free person, what slavery was, was really about separating families about mutilating humans, and even raping their wives. It was just devastating. So I would hope that every person in our country and certainly running for president would appreciate that and listen, people have bad days. Sometimes they regret what they say.

Gavin Jackson: Tim Scott, like other candidates made stops at the Iowa State Fair, where he spoke with Governor Kim Reynolds, ate fair food and met voters.

<Sen. Tim Scott> So it is not the strength of President Xi. It's the weakness of President Biden. We need to understand the problem we face as a nation. America is the greatest land on God's green earth. We need to stop the Chinese though, the Chinese Communist Party from buying our farmlands number one, spying on our kids and stealing our jobs and our supply chain.

Gavin Jackson: Scott also toured the southern border, another must visit for Republicans who have made border security a key issue of their campaigns.

<Sen. Tim Scott> Well, the Biden administration continues to tell the American people, believe what we say and not what you see with your own eyes. I've had an opportunity already to speak with law enforcement. They tell me that the surge continues. I'll meet after we leave the border right now with community leaders and frankly, with folks who lost their kids to fentanyl. The devastation that we are experiencing as Americans is preventable. Much of it is preventable, if we finish the wall, use technology, fire Joe Biden and hire me. I will be the president that finishes the wall and...

Gavin Jackson: DeSantis who has maintained a distant second to former President Donald Trump in the polls, has also visited the state multiple times since announcing his bid in June, though he had to forego a key speaking slot at Congressman Jeff Duncan's Faith and Freedom barbecue last month due to Hurricane Idalia.

<Audience Member #1> I'm a very hardcore Trump supporter, but I know, he made me stop and think...because my love for President Trump, comes from all the despair, all the things that he's been through, has served as our president of the United States, and he did a good job, but all the things I'm thinking along with my heart and my sorrow, my love for him and for this country, but now I have - this is the most important vote that we're gonna have, and I have to think more with my mind and what's best for this country. You did an excellent job, and I certainly appreciate it. (applause)

<Gov.DeSantis> I appreciate that, and I agree with you. I appreciate what President Trump did. How they treated him with, things like Russia collusion was a disgrace, and he was treated wrong. He was treated in ways that were unconstitutional, but here's the thing. The question for us now is what we're going to do about it, and we need to end the weaponization of government. I will get that done. It's not about me. It's about you.

<Audience Member #2>...and I was and still am a huge Trump supporter from a policy standpoint, but I personally would like to see different approaches to invoke those policies. and I think the demeanor of somebody like Santas - DeSantis, excuse me, or Tim Scott, or Nikki Haley, is more aligned with where I would like to see the country go. That doesn't mean if Trump's the Republican nominee, I will absolutely be voting for him.

<Linda Lewis> We need to stop with the crazy rhetoric and the name calling and just get on with solving problems in our nation. It's pretty, we got some serious stuff that we're dealing with right now. And I think, for me personally, in the last four years, we've - three years we've slid backwards terribly, and I am very concerned about everything from the border crisis to the economy is a big problem. How we're gonna get our country to come together and be more unified because again, we're focusing on the wrong things. We're focusing on the fringe elements that really don't move the needle for most Americans, and it's time to get focused.

Gavin Jackson: President Joe Biden also made a stop in South Carolina. This July, he visited a West Columbia manufacturer that is creating 600 new jobs thanks to incentives in major spending legislation, such as the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Chips Act and the state companies have announced $11 billion in manufacturing and clean energy investments since Biden took office and the state has been awarded $2.6 billion in funding for infrastructure projects.

<President Biden> I came to office determined to the point of some my own team thought I was too determined to change the economic direction of this country to move trickled down economics and get rid of it for everyone from the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, called the program Biden-nomics. I'm not sure they meant it as a compliment at the time. Our plan is working, and one of the things I'm proud of is that it's working everywhere, not just in the coasts and big cities, like previous recoveries. This time investment is working and factories being built and jobs being created happening in rural America through the heartland, all across America.

Gavin Jackson:  Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump kept and in some cases grew his lead over the Republican presidential field, even as indictments stacked up over the summer. Trump faces a total of 91 charges across four criminal cases, including 44 Federal and 47 state charges, all of them felonies. Trump has denied wrongdoing in each case, and the most severe federal counts are those related to obstruction.

<President Trump> The Espionage Act has been used to go after traitors and spies. It has nothing to do with a former president legally keeping documents. As a president, the law that applies to this case is that the Espionage Act. It's vicious. It's never been used before. Never. It's only been used on me over boxes, that I'm allowed to have. The Espionage Act, but the Presidential Records Act which is not even mentioned in this horrible and vicious and stupid according to very talented lawyers, 44 page indictment under the Presidential Records Act, which is a civil situation not a criminal law.

<Greg> I've just call them crappy indictments and all that, you know, He's gonna...He'll be back.

<Robin> The American people is fed up with him.

<Greg> I mean, millions upon millions upon millions of people all in agreement, can't be wrong.

<Speaker #1> I love Tim Scott, but it's not time for him to be president. He can be VP with Trump and I'd be fine.

<Speaker #2> Absolutely.

<interviewer> Yeah, that was gonna be my next question.

Who would you like to see on the ticket with Trump?

<Speaker #3> Nikki Haley always bails out on everything.

>> Yeah.

<Speaker #4> Nikki always...picks up and leaves.

Gavin Jackson: From his Pickens rally in July to Columbia in August, where Trump was the keynote speaker at the annual silver elephant fundraising dinner put on by the state Republican Party.

<Drew McKissick> Again, I think we're gonna get, you know, an even bigger spotlight than we're used to, because of where we're positioned on the calendar this year. You know, Iowa and New Hampshire going very much earlier in January. Nevada is going to be, I think, the first week in February, and nobody else can have a primary until the first Tuesday in March. So that leaves a lot of open real estate on the calendar. So that's why we decided to put it on February 24. That gives us almost three weeks of uninterrupted time with candidates, you know, since the Nevada primary, and puts us in a position where we're just 10 days before Super Tuesday. So candidates are going to want to come here, do well here to get that boost that they need going into Super Tuesday where you have to be in 8 to 10 media markets all at one time, and that gets prohibitively expensive, a lot of extra organizational you know, time and energy and money that they would have to expend. So doing well here matters more than it has in the past, I think.

Gavin Jackson: The event came shortly after Trump received the endorsement of House Speaker Murrell Smith, one of the highest profile endorsements since rolling out his state executive team in January. The big news of the summer at the state level was the all male South Carolina Supreme Court ruling four to one to uphold a similar six week abortion ban law that the court ruled three to two against in January. Justice John Cannon Few flipped to the majority following changes to the law, and he joined newcomer Justice Gary Hill, who replaced the last woman on the Court Justice K Hearn, following her mandatory retirement this year. Activists took to the Statehouse hours after the decision was handed down on August 23rd to voice their opposition. Many said they hope to see it influence voter turnout in next year's Statehouse and presidential elections, like it has in other states around the country.

<Rep. Beth Bernstein> ...and as a legislature, we are legislating that physician - patient...relationship, and it's unfortunate. So we're, I think we're going to start seeing doctors leave this state who are already here, and other doctors who would otherwise come here, not come here because of legislation like this. Who wants to practice medicine, with the threat of having a criminal prosecution, jail time, penalties when they could go to another state and not have that?

Gavin Jackson: Messaging on abortion has been a delicate dance for Republicans, but it's one that former Governor Nikki Haley, the only woman in the 2024 Republican presidential race continues to navigate like at the first debate in August.

<Nikki Haley> When it comes to a federal ban, let's be honest with the American people and say it will take 60 Senate votes. It will take a majority of the House. So in order to do that, let's find consensus. Can't we all agree that we should ban late term abortions? Can't we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can't we all agree that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortion shouldn't have to perform them? Can't we all agree that contraception should be available? And can't we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty, if she gets an abortion? Let's treat this like the, like a respectful issue that it is and humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation.

<Pence> We have a minimum standard in every state in the nation that says when a baby is capable of feeling pain, an abortion cannot be allowed. A 15 week ban is an idea whose time has come. It's supported by 70% of the American people, but it's going to take unapologetic leadership, leadership that stands on principle and expresses compassion for women in crisis pregnancies.

Gavin Jackson:  That debate also served as expected to be a breakout moment for Haley who had her campaign's single best fundraising day following the performance in Milwaukee.

<Nikki Haley> Ukraine is the first line of defense for us, and the problem that Vivek doesn't understand is he wants to hand Ukraine to Russia. He wants to let China eat Taiwan. He wants to go and stop funding Israel. You don't do that to friends. What you do instead is you have the backs of your friends. Ukraine is a front line of defense. Putin has said if Russia, once Russia takes Ukraine Poland and the Baltics are next. That's a World War. We're trying to prevent war. Look at what Putin did today. He killed Prigozhin when I was at the UN, the Russian ambassador suddenly died. This guy is a murderer and you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.(applause)

<Vivek Ramaswamy> First of all... <Host> First of all, Mr. Ramaswamy, you have 30 seconds... <Vivek Ramaswamy> Nikki, I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon,

<Nikki Haley> I'm not on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.

<Vivek Ramaswamy> ...Boeing came off of it, but you've been pushing this lie. You've been pushing this lie all week Nikki.

<Nikki Haley> You want to go and defund Israel. You want...

<Vivek Ramaswamy> Let me address that. I'm glad you brought that up. I'm going to address each of those right now. (applause) The false lies of a professional politician. There you have it.

<Nikki Haley>...under your watch. You would make America have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.

<Vivek Ramaswamy> You know what? (applause)

<Dr. Gibbs Knotts> I think again, I think Nikki Haley is a really, really good general election candidate. You know, obviously she's pro life, but she talks, I think about abortion in a way that she could still could win some swing states and some of those key suburban areas that are so important when you when you go out, go out and try to win swing states. You know, she, but again, is that going to be, is that going to alienate Republican primary voters, especially in Iowa, and South Carolina, where amongst that particular group, it's pretty hardline on abortion, and so I just think, you know, I think that's the challenge for her is how she you know, how she part of her case is that she's a strong general election candidate, but if she can't win the nomination, then she can't win the general election. So she's in a little bit of a bind.

Gavin Jackson: Joining me now in studio is Associated Press reporter, Meg Kinnard. Meg is a national politics reporter based here in Columbia. Meg, welcome back.

<Meg> Thank you. It's so good to be back.

Gavin Jackson: and we are after Labor Day, which, is the unofficial ramp up for a campaign season, which has already been pretty much in full swing, but broadly speaking, Meg, kind of just tell us, tell folks who maybe are just now tuning into the race, what the state of play looks like in South Carolina right now.

<Meg> I mean, it's been busy here for quite some time, as we both know, out there on the trail, but now we're starting to see more frequent appearances from some of the candidates, not everybody, but more attention. This is, you know, this is the space where the voters who have kind of been tangentially aware of, "Oh, yeah, "there's an election coming up. Sure, there's "a primary here, these candidates are here," and they're starting to come out more and more to hear exactly what they have to say that's the benefit of being an early voting state getting to see the candidates in person and not just on a debate stage ahead of the votes here. So more attention from voters as well as candidates, more activity and interest, and it's only going to get more between now and February.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, we're watching these candidates kind of rotate between Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. I feel like Iowa's getting a lot more attention, but some folks say that's not necessarily the case.

<Meg> I mean, it just kind of depends on who you're talking to. I think there's often this kind of like friendly competition among the early states of you know, who's getting more activity, who has more candidate visits. All of that does translate into economic booms for each of these states. So that's part of the conversation as well, but we have seen a lot of people in Iowa clearly for the State Fair, for that long stretch there where there were candidates doing a whole bunch of different things, but more attention is going to be here on South Carolina, where it's getting ready to be fall. The temperatures are going to be great. It's gonna get pretty cold in some of those other early voting states, but South Carolina is so temperate, so I think we'll see more activity

Gavin Jackson:  and the barbecue is far superior than those other states

<Meg> Of course.

Gavin Jackson:  But Meg, let's look at this race through a South Carolina lens, because we have two homegrown candidates in that race. Let's start with the former Governor Nikki Haley, what's going on with her campaign. How has she been faring this summer?

<Meg> Honestly, former Governor Haley, she had a good debate for the first contest where all of these candidates are most of the candidates anyway, we're on stage together, and her campaign has really been playing that up. They've been mentioning a lot of the increased attention she's been getting. She's had some events here in South Carolina, as well as other early states. There have been more people there.

She was an Indian Land recently, and they had an overflow crowd, which is not something that we've really seen typical of a lot of her events here in her home state. So there is some increased attention. Clearly, most people around here know who she is. She was governor for almost two terms, as well as the UN ambassador, but some of that the what they've portrayed as a good performance in that first debate her campaign is trying to translate that into "Okay, well, maybe you should "take a second look at this candidate that perhaps "you hadn't looked at in the same sort "of national way before."

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, and she got a pretty big bump, at least with fundraising too. I haven't really seen the polls move too much, but I think, to the tune of like, a million dollars over like the first 72 hours after that debate.

<Meg> Yeah, that was something that Haley's campaign said was her best ever fundraising single day or single timeframe period. So certainly, that does translate into those dollars, which is the way these campaigns can continue to stay out on the road to stay visible to go on the air, do all those kinds of things, to get them in front of more and more voters in more places. So yeah, that's beneficial, for sure.

Gavin Jackson:  Seems like her campaign was putting a lot of weight on that on that debate performance too, and not really running ads up into that point, either, and now they have a lot of PAC ads going. So it seems like their strategy is to wait till people are maybe paying attention, like they've been saying,

<Meg> That's one thing that Nikki Haley's campaign and the candidate herself have said for a long time that she is fiscally responsible, not just in the way that we hear candidates talk about it, but that she has an accounting background that she knows how to balance a budget coming from her work as a state legislator and a governor. So you know, that's, that's a cute campaign talking point, really, but that is something that her campaign has been trying to emphasize that they're at least thinking about when they're spending their money, when they're asking donors for contributions, but then also not just kind of like throwing it all at once measuring it out. and after Labor Day is the time to really start spending it.

Gavin Jackson: ...but we've already seen some other campaigns spending big, including Senator Tim Scott's campaign. He's been spending a lot on ads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, not so much down here, because he's pretty well known. Pretty well liked as well. So what's going on with Tim Scott's campaign? How has he been faring this summer?

<Meg> He's been going to all of these early states clearly as all the campaigns who can have been able to he came into this campaign with a lot more money than we typically see. Campaigns start off with, again, that was something that was able to be transferred from his Senate account where he hadn't really had to spend a whole lot of money on his re-elect, but that money did allow him to do things off the bat that oftentimes campaigns will wait until later in the season into the fall to do, like spending money on ads, like being able to do a fly around, you know, on a jet as opposed to driving to campaign events. I mean, those kinds of things like people like us talk about them, but really, it does enable him to kind of get more bang for his buck, so to speak.

He's still a working senator. So he has to do his job in Washington as well. So for him, sometimes those campaigning windows are a little bit more condensed, but we've seen him become more and more active, his PAC has been spending money for him, as well. He's been up on the ads up on the air with ads continuously since he launched and I think we're gonna continue to see that too.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, we just saw him do, like you're talking about these fly rounds. He was like in Charleston and Lexington and then Greenville and the upstate one day last week recently. So we're also seeing him up in New Hampshire, but also like you said, the Senate's back in session too. So back to his day job as well.

<Meg> I mean, it's something that, you know, folks who were in office have to figure out that balance, and we heard from his campaign, even before they were in official campaign, talk about that window where he was going to be campaigning. ...when they're not in session, he's going to be on the road. When they are in session, He's going to be picking his spots, maybe like a Thursday, Friday, Saturday piece of the week that he'll be out there campaigning, and now with Congress back in session for the fall, you know, we're really going to see that playing out the campaign's heating up, he still has to be in Washington and fulfill his obligations to the South Carolinians who sent him there. So you know, that could be kind of a time crunch.

Gavin Jackson: Meg, when we look at our segment previous to this interview, there were two big Trump campaign events this summer. What else stood out to you at these campaign events? We both covered them. One was in Pickens. One was here in the Midlands. What were the folks telling you, especially in light of these indictments have come out this summer?

<Meg> A lot of folks don't seem to at least the ones we've talked to at these events in South Carolina, they haven't expressed a whole lot of concern about the continual charges that they've seen. I think we're through the indictments now. There have been four separate cases clearly against the former president, but a lot of the folks particularly the ones at that event in Pickens where there were tens of thousands of people crammed into downtown. Those were pretty diehard Trump supporters, and even the ones that we asked, okay, well, if you couldn't vote for him, if for some reason he couldn't be on the ballot for the general election or for the primary, what would you do? I'd write him in. I mean, these are the kinds of voters that really don't seem to care about the legal stuff. There are some who expressed plenty of concerns. They don't really like it. They're not really sure that that's something that they want to see in somebody who's occupying the White House, but they're still not sure. and so the fact that there are plenty of those voters in a state that has strongly supported Donald Trump in his previous run, saying, you know, I'm not totally turned off by what I'm hearing in terms of his legal challenges, I think that we can read into that, that there is still a fairly high level of support for him. No votes have been cast in any state here or otherwise. So we don't really know how that plays out, but at least it does sound like there are voters who, you know, are willing to just kind of say, I see that the guy has some legal issues. Whatever. I still like his policies. I like him, and maybe I'll vote for him again.

Gavin Jackson: and we haven't seen those poll numbers move too much, either. When it comes to all this as well, much to the disappointment folks, like Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, who's been in a steady second place, but had a bit of a bumpy summer with a campaign reboot, which was kind of surprising, since it was such a fresh campaign already. Has that campaign stabilized? What's going on there? Especially, when we look at donors, probably possibly looking at other candidates, especially after that debate performance?

<Meg> We have seen a lot about donors who either had given to Ron DeSantis already, or maybe we're thinking about it, as the campaign goes on, saying, Oh, maybe not, maybe I'll pick somebody else, or maybe I'll just wait and see, you know, where, where I land with my money. We've had some conversations within the AP with some of those donors and their representatives, and they're not saying definitively that they're not going to be with him, but they are at least considering other options, which is not where they would have anticipated they'd be, perhaps in February of this year before the campaigns really got launched aside from Donald Trump and Nikki Haley who got in pretty early. So the conversation is still happening.

Clearly Ron DeSantis' Super PAC, that supporting him has been able to bring in a bunch of money that they have been spending, but there have been conversations too, about kind of reallocating those resources and not doing all of the on the ground efforts that are very expensive, in all of these early states, and pulling that back a little bit just to kind of like see how it settles out.

We still have another fundraising quarter, that'll be coming up at the end of the third quarter to kind of see how the candidate money is shaking out. It'll take a little bit longer for the PACs and other issue groups for us to know, but you know, a lot of those conversations I think are happening and just like voters, the donors are thinking, Is there somebody else in this field maybe that I could be looking for?

Gavin Jackson: It reminds me when you're talking about the money being spent on mailers and ads. I mean, we saw a lot of DeSantis mailers and door hangs right when he launched his campaign, but haven't seen much of that since it seems like they are readjusting their approach to how they allocate funds like you're talking about, but we haven't either heard a lot from former Vice President Mike Pence who frequented the state a good bit before his announcement. Haven't seen him much since what's his strategy at this point?

<Meg> He was here at least I think nine times. Even before he was an official candidate spending a lot of time here in South Carolina clearly talking about issues related to abortion, which is one of his primary issues, and very important to Republican primary voters here as well, but we haven't seen as much from him, and I think that, you know, with a lot of the campaigns getting into the race, there was a bit of a question of where some of that support would land when it comes to the former vice president.

He's still trying to, to associate himself with some of the successes of the Trump administration or the Trump- Pence administration, as he always refers to it, while still dealing with the fact of you know, there are some voters who really did support the administration, but don't like his actions as they specifically pertain to January 6, and that's kind of a tricky spot.

I mean, that was one day, but it was one very monumental day, and there are some voters who on the campaign trail when we're asking them about the former vice president, they bring up January 6, and they still are like, he didn't stand up for Donald Trump the way that I wanted him to or the way they perceived that the former president wanted Mike Pence to.

So that is a question that he's continuing to deal with and we'll see how it plays out in the rest of the early voting states

Gavin Jackson: ..and Meg really quick, September 27 is the next debate what has to happen on that debate stage for these candidates?

<Meg> There has to be a breakout moment for some of the ones who haven't gotten that attention. Clearly, Nikki Haley is hoping that she'll have another moment like she has been able to build some momentum from the first debate. Tim Scott's team has said that he plans to be more aggressive. We don't know exactly what that translates into on the debate stage, but he is anticipating and hoping that he's going to get more attention after September 27.

Gavin Jackson: It's all ramping up Meg.

<Meg> It sure is. We're here.

Gavin Jackson: Associated Press reporter, Meg Kinnard, thank you so much.

<Meg> Thank you.

Gavin Jackson:  For South Carolina ETV, I'm Gavin Jackson Be well, South Carolina