State Supreme Court Election, 2024 Predictions | This Week in South Carolina

USC's Political Science Chair Kirk Randazzo and The Associated Press' Meg Kinnard discuss Donald Trump's SC visit, Nikki Haley announcing her presidential run, and other political news happening in the state.

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Gavin Jackson: Welcome to This Week in South Carolina. I'm Gavin Jackson. It was a busy week in presidential politics and the Palmetto State. Former President Donald Trump was at the Statehouse to announce his South Carolina presidential campaign team. Former governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to announce her candidacy for president and US Senator Tim Scott announced he will begin a listening tour across the country in two weeks. The Associate Press Meg. Kinnard and USC political science Chair Dr. Kirk Randazzo. Join me to break it down. But first more from this week. On January 28, former President Donald Trump held his first South Carolina campaign stop to announce his leadership team at the Statehouse some 350 supporters invited guests, members of the Congressional delegation in media attended the event to hear Trump speak for 40 minutes about his accomplishments and leadership during his four year term. And also for him to present new policy ideas to rally his base in a state where he remains popular.

Fmr. President Donald Trump: As I announced this week, I will cut federal funding for any school pushing far left sexual or political content on our children. And I'll create massive incentives for states and school districts to adopt crucial reforms to protect parents rights. Can you believe we're even talking about this? Henry, we're talking about parents rights. We're saying we're gonna protect parents rights 10 years ago who would even say that your parents rights? Yeah, we're gonna protect parents rights, who would think that would even have to say it today. It's like a big political statement. We will protect parents rights, we'll bring them back. That includes a direct election of public school principals by the parents. If any principal is not getting the job done. The parent should have the right and be able to vote or to fire them and to select someone else that will do the job properly.

Gavin Jackson: His leadership team includes several prominent South Carolina politicians and appointees, but many Republican legislators and prior supporters did not endorse Trump as they wait to see how the primary field shapes up, especially with former Governor Nikki Haley, jumping in the race, and possibly Senator Tim Scott. But in 2016, then Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster, was the first statewide elected official nationwide to endorse Trump. He did it as governor in 2020. And again, as a newly sworn in second term governor Saturday.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC): And we're coming, we're coming back stronger than before and in November 2024, we will reelect Donald... Donald Trump, and we will see a burst of freedom and prosperity unlike any we have ever seen before we're for you all away.Thank you.

Gavin Jackson: Former governor and US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, is set to be the second Republican to jump in the race. When she formally announces on February 15, from Charleston.

Fmr. Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC): I have said I've never lost a race.I'm not going to start now. If we decide to get into it. We'll put 1,000% in and we'll finish it.

Gavin Jackson: Joining me now is Meg Kinnard. She's an Associate Press national politics reporter based here in South Carolina. Meg, welcome back to this week in South Carolina. 

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: Always good to join you, Gavin.

Gavin Jackson: We got some big news to talk about this week. So let's just jump right in. And we're talking about the 2024 Republican presidential primary. It's here we're ramping up for it, even though we're a year away from it. But we saw a lot of news this week. And we're gonna start with President Donald Trump, former President Donald Trump, who was in the state with his first South Carolina campaign stop at the Statehouse on January 28. We were both there covering that event. I want to get your thoughts on what you saw, more importantly, what you heard from the former president on that day.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: For those of us who have covered Donald Trump's previous campaigns, this effort off the bat looks a little different. We're used to going to big rallies in airplane hangars and high school gymnasiums full of 1000s of people. This time, the former president was inside the South Carolina State House, he still had supporters with him, all be it at a much smaller numbers than we're used to seeing at these big rallies. And he was flanked by his South Carolina leadership team, Governor McMaster, Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette, as well as some other former politicians and current members of Congress. So there was a lot of support, but just not the same level of that campaign trail energy they were used to seeing. When the former president comes to town. Their messaging is still about the same, a lot of the same issues being hit on but it was just a very different vibe. And from the former president's campaign, they said to expect more of this as you start to do more travel. So off the bat, it's a different look for 2024 that's for sure.

Gavin Jackson: You had a couple of big issues that really landed during his about 40 Minutes and remarks are where he was talking about, you know, a lot of red meat issues, some that have actually been addressed in South Carolina, we're talking about transgender students in sports. We're talking about, you know, even mentioning, electing teachers electing principals, sorry, at the school district level, as well as even made the little ja..., jab their electric vehicles, which is kind of interesting because South Carolina is kind of on the forefront there when it comes to electric vehicle manufacturing, and also some of the components and materials that go into those vehicles.Anything else that jumped out at you?

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: Those were some of the big ones. And you know, that was a little bit of an awkward moment, maybe with the former president standing right next to Governor McMaster. He's just signed an executive order to try to bring more of those electrical vehicle related businesses to South Carolina and clearly a big supporter of that nascent industry here. But you know, overall, yeah, a lot of those messages were the same, and especially when it came to the election of high school principals, which was a new one for me, that got a big reaction from their supporters who were there. They liked what they heard. So maybe we'll be hearing more, you know, kind of along the same sort of lines, maybe, but more issues in that vein as the former president continues to campaign.

Gavin Jackson: So Becky, you were talking about how he was flanked by a lot of folks there to Senator Lindsey Graham, some members of the Congressional delegation, but also some were not there. A lot of state representatives were not there. A lot of his previous supporters were not present. What's the state of play? When it comes to that? Obviously, we play a big role in choosing these, these Republican nominees when it goes forward to win for the White House bid. So what were you hearing from some folks as to their reasons why they were not present, some folks that you would probably assume would have been there standing with the President.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: We've really heard the gamut in terms of the reasons that people were not there for the former president. A lot of state lawmakers here with the session kind of just getting underway. We're noting their focus on really just trying to, you know, keep in mind, the debates that are ongoing in the legislature and not really paying close, too close attention to 2024 on a presidential level quite yet. Other folks had some personal things going on. But you know, in general, I think the tenor of the messages that we heard from the people who weren't there was, it's really early, there are a lot of candidates and campaigns that aren't in this race yet that we're expecting, including potentially to from here in South Carolina to natives to join the race. So it seems that there are a lot of people who may ultimately very well end up supporting the former president's bid, but they're not willing to do so yet, as the field is still very much taking place and is in its very earliest stages of coming together.

Gavin Jackson: Exactly. We're seeing it as a contender. To jump into that, into that. And that's gonna be former Governor Nikki Haley, and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. We just got word this week that she'll be making an announcement in Charleston, on the 15th. And this comes after she spoke with former President Donald Trump after she again told you back in 2021, that she wouldn't jump in this race of former President Trump was in the race and that she'd support him. That's since changed. They've talked, walk us through this maze that she's created and how she's navigated it.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: That's right back in April of 2021. I asked Governor Haley, if Donald Trump is in this race and 2024 Are you in Are you out. And at that point, she said she would not run against him for the nomination. Clearly now staring down this impending announcement of her own things have changed when she's been asked about this in the past, and I will say I have tried to ask her directly about what has changed in her campaign or for folks have not taken me up on that request. But when others have been able to ask her where she is on this, she has pointed to what she sees as a need for new generational leadership on behalf of the nation. And specifically within the Republican Party. There's been a lot of discussion about President Joe Biden's age. But when it comes to former President Donald Trump, who is just a few years younger than the current president, Governor Haley is saying, Look, we need to be talking about not necessarily somebody who's almost 80 years old, being president again. And for her part, the former governor is 51.So she definitely would represent a new generation in terms of leadership. So that's one thing she talks about. But you know, also I think part of what she's been navigating is a lot of what has changed in people's perceptions of the former president, when she spoke those words to me back in April of 2021. That was kind of in a time of a lot of assessment of the former president's time in office, right on the heels of January 6, and kind of what that meant. But, you know, among his base among his biggest supporters, there were still a lot of support for the former president. And at that stage, at least when she was talking to me, Governor Haley said, you know, if he's in I will still support him. Now, here almost a year and a half later, a lot of a lot of decisions have been made clearly on her part. But also there is a question as to how much of that electoral base of former President Donald Trump is really there to support him in another race. So she's weighing that calculus and at least to her part seems that she's decided this is the right time for her to get in.

Gavin Jackson: And now she'll be the only other person in the race with him at the same time. So really two different candidates, two different approaches. What's she going to have to do at this point to kind of, I guess, differentiate herself from Trump, who seems to always take the oxygen out of the room out of a race, especially, you know, when they're so different, and he has such an advantage when it comes to name recognition, and just, you know, early polling that shows him in a strong lead.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: That's something the former president is very quick to point toward all these polls, they show me ahead, and I'm in great shape. So I'm not worried about anything. But you know, also, when we're thinking about what this campaign is going to look like, whoever were to get into it, right after Donald Trump, whether it were Nikki Haley, or another candidate, that person in that at least temporary head to head match up, could potentially be on the receiving end of a bit of Brunt force. I don't mean that in a physical way. But just in terms of rhetoric, and politics and opposition, the former president is known to be a very serious campaigner. We've been through campaigns in the past where a lot of his opponents have gotten nicknames from him. And at these big rallies, those are things that got a lot of rise out of his supporters who were there. And yes, it's just words, but still, you know, when you're out there as another candidate trying to make your best argument to the American people, that's just probably not something that you want to be the only person who's perhaps, you know, on the receiving end. So she has to be ready to deal with that, for her part, Governor Haley has been consistent saying over and over, I've never lost an election, I'm not going to start now. And if I get into this, which she clearly is now, going to put 1,000% in it and finish it. Those are what we would expect to hear from campaigns, at least in the beginning. But this is kind of the optimistic timeframe, where there's still a lot of money to be raised. There's still a lot of supporters to garner. And you know, it's kind of like when you start watching a football game, and nobody's scored yet. But there's just a whole realm of possibilities out there on the field. That's kind of where we are at the beginning of this campaign. And at least for her part, Governor Haley may very well be that only person who's another option aside from Donald Trump, at least for a little bit, because she won't be alone for long.

Gavin Jackson: Exactly. And, of course, she can also command some headlines based on what head to head fights might be coming her way with the former president too. So that could also boost her messaging and getting her name out there more in fundraising as well. So a lot to be watching these formative days of the trail. But I want to ask you also about Senator Tim Scott. He's launching his faith in America listening toward the day after Haley's announcement this month, and he'll be in Iowa A week later. Will we have two prominent South Carolinians in the 2024 race.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press:  A lot of signs seem to point to Yes, Tim Scott made it very clear that the 2022 midterm election to his most recent Senate term would be his last Senate campaign. He never said it would be his last campaign. Tim Scott has for years been setting up the sort of national type framework that oftentimes precedes presidential campaigns, setting up a nonprofit setting up and associated PAC visiting other early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, we're not alone on this early primary calendar. There are other states that play pivotal roles where he might be lesser known. And Tim Scott has been going there, as has Governor Haley and several others in the potential field. But he has been building that ground game, he's been laying the framework for what is very likely to be another 2024 presidential campaign from a prominent South Carolinian. So that means a lot of voters here are certainly going to have to kind of figure out which one they like better, or if they like another candidate who may be in the race now or in the future, some decisions to be made for sure. And not to mention also competition for staffers who know this state well, who are experienced when it comes to navigating South Carolina politics, and also potential donors because at ideologically speaking, there's a lot of similarities between Tim Scott and Nikki Haley that a lot of folks are going to have to figure out if they like one better than the other.

Gavin Jackson: So much to watch for in the coming months. And we'll be doing it with Meg Kinnard. She's an AP national politics reporter based here in Columbia, South Carolina. Meg, thanks as always.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press: Of course, thank you.

Gavin Jackson: I'm joined by Kirk Randazzo. He's a University of South Carolina political science professor and the department chair there. Kirk, welcome back.

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Gavin Jackson: So Kirk, we're going to talk about the upcoming state Supreme Court election in a moment, but I want you to weigh in on some of the big 2024 news that we saw play out this week. Specifically, former President Donald Trump is in state and then former Governor Nikki Haley making waves that she'll be making an announcement later this month for her bid for President. So let's start with her Lay she's that former US UN Ambassador and  f course, the former governor of our state. What's the strategy here for her to announce at this point, she'll be the only person in the race with for President Donald Trump, who she worked for? What's the strategy? What's that going to be like for the coming weeks?

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Yeah, it's it's interesting that she is moving this early, though. Also interesting that Donald Trump moved even earlier, because typically, these announcements don't come out until the middle to the late spring. But I think what what might be going through Haley's mind, in part is possibly heading off an announcement by Senator Tim Scott. You know, he's rumored to be considering a bid. But I also think Nikki Haley, by being sort of the first challenger to Donald Trump can use this as an opportunity to get her name and her message out to a wider segment of the country. You know, right now, she's polling kind of low in the single digits.  And being the only other person in that field, I think we'll give her a lot of attention that she might not otherwise get.

Gavin Jackson: And we heard from the former president tell her that she should jump in the race that he's fine with her jumping in the race. Because before she said she wouldn't, because if he was running, she wouldn't be running. So she's kind of already moved on that. So she does have this chance to create a tone like you're saying a message that she can take, especially when it's just the two of them in the race, but do you see him attacking her or she got the ... attacks? Or do you think there'll be time for them to kind of work at their own pace?

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: I absolutely see Donald Trump attacking her because he's attacked everyone else. And I don't see where Nikki Haley will get spared that any. That said, I think Nikki Haley's temperament is such that she can weather any of those attacks really well. I mean, in 2016, after Donald Trump attacked her early on, she famously responded with, oh, Donald bless your heart, and garnered a lot of enthusiasm from people, not just in South Carolina, but around the country. And so I think she's got that temperament to weather, anything that he might throw her way.

Gavin Jackson: And we are seeing some early polling already showing that Trump is pretty comfortably in the lead here. Of course, it's still super early, a lot of things can happen between now and next year when we see these primaries take place. But we also see Ron DeSantis, the Florida Governor, thier also polling pretty strongly too. We saw a Trafalgar group poll come out recently with 1078, likely South Carolina Republican presidential primary voters, Donald Trump at 43%. Ron DeSantis, 28% Tim Scott, you just mentioned our st..., one of our senators at 14%, ahead of Haley at 12%. So interesting dynamic there, too. But again, going back to what you're saying that she has to overcome a lot, not just when it comes to messaging and attacks on the president. But some other challenges, too. I mean, what does she have to her advantage at this point?

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Well, I think her advantage is she served as a governor. And that kind of experience, I think is is fantastic. She's also, as you mentioned, served as the ambassador to the UN. So she has foreign policy credentials, that some of the other rumored candidates don't have. I think her biggest challenge is going to be reaching out to the more extreme members of the Republican Party, arguably the "MAGA" base that Donald Trump sort of cultivated, because those are the individuals most likely to show up and vote. And right now, Nikki Haley is much more of a middle of the road moderate kind of Republican. And so she's going to need a message that will appeal to those more extreme members, while at the same time not alienate moderates or independents that she would need to pick up if she got the nomination and went on to the general election.

Gavin Jackson: And Kirk, maybe it's a matter of also doing what you're saying right there too. But also having a big splashy announcement selling has been rumored for months and years really, for her to do and then go buy her time. Go to the early voting states, get her message out, do that hard groundwork and wait for DeSantis and the Trump folks to fight each other and then Her be possibly a viable third candidate for to emerge or you know, of course, there's other people in this race too, that could do that as well like Mike Pence or or Tim Scott, like we're saying so it's really gonna be that fight to be that that other person I guess, to emerge when maybe the top two candidates are too bloodied for people to support.

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Agreed and it also gives her an opportunity to get her ground organization established and start courting donors that right now have signaled they are hesitant to put money behind Donald Trump. And they're waiting to see what the rest of the field looks like. She might be able to get a jumpstart on securing some of their donations.

Gavin Jackson: And Kirk along those lines. When you're talking about donors on the sidelines, we're also seeing some of these politicians on the sidelines to specifically we saw former President Trump come to town on Saturday. You know, he was flanked by the governor and the lieutenant governor. Several of our congressmen were there, including Russell Frey, William Timmons and Joe Wilson. So pretty good showing of support right there a lot of folks that he had endorsed or helped get to those positions. But at the same time, a lot of people weren't there to there. A lot of people were are keeping their powder dry, as they're saying. So maybe not the strongest start for President Donald Trump in the state, but still a solid footing, you would say?

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Yeah, I think it was a decent start, though. I think it was noticeably weaker than say even his start in 2016. Certainly his start in 2020. Where I think it was weaker is the fact that you have a former president running for election and did not get more individuals to come out and support him. You know, as you said, Senator Graham, Governor McMaster, two individuals that have very much hitched their wagon to Trump's horse, they were there. But a lot of other notable names decided to not make an appearance and they're sitting on the sidelines. And we're seeing that nationwide as well. I think people are ready to move on from Trump. They're just trying to figure out who might be the best person to pick up that standard and carry it for the party.

Gavin Jackson: And before we get to the Supreme Court elections, Tim Scott will be making, launching I should say his listening tour, the day after Haley's big announcement in Charleston on February 15. So it's gonna be interesting to see that dynamic at play, because it is rumored that he will jump into this race too. So not too much light between them, though, when it comes to policy differences, though, but still two different dynamics at play.

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: True. Yeah. They're both very similar in terms of their mind set, their perspective. And I think if they both end up getting into that race, that'll be a very interesting dynamic to watch play out.

Gavin Jackson: Kirk, let's go to the statehouse where we're a week away from judicial elections less than a week. The biggest race there is to replace retiring State Supreme Court Justice K. Hearn. There was a field of three qualified state appeals court judges and the running based on early commitments, though, judges, Judge Gary Hill, I should say is the winner right now, of course, they haven't elected him yet. But just the way commitments have shaped up that's the case. That's the way it's going. That prompted judges, Aphrodite K. Konduros, and Stephanie McDonald to drop out. So a lot of this is also framed by the optics of that three to two state supreme court decision over the state's six week abortion law that was ruled unconstitutional. So what's your take on this entire the entire fallout of that ruling? And just how maybe politicize this process has now become it's obviously always been political, but maybe a little bit more heightened now?

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: Yeah, I think the process has always been political. But now it is much more visible, it is much more in the spotlight. And so I would say a couple of things. First of all, South Carolina is one of only two states where the legislature actually selects justices for their high court Virginia as the other state that does this. And our processes is a little weird. Even from that, in that the the members of the legislature basically are only given three names, we have a what's called a judicial merit selection committee, that puts forward three names. And those are the only candidates that the legislature can consider. And then there's supposed to be a set period of time for members of the legislature to talk with those candidates and get a feel for whom they might have might want to cast a vote. It appears as if some legislators maybe started a little bit early started meeting with with one particular candidate before the others. And that might have prompted or been one of the reasons why some of the other candidates dropped. But regardless, the basically the situation that we're in, is that this will be the first time in the last 35 years that our state has had an all male Supreme Court, and it will make South Carolina the only state in the country that does not have at least one female justice on its bench. And so I think that has caused a lot concern among the legislature which is one of the reasons why they delayed the vote that was originally supposed to happen yesterday, delayed it a week, and possibly or might consider legislation that would allow them to consider more than the three candidates put forward by the merit selection committee.

Gavin Jackson: And this also comes as the Attorney General's asking for them to re-hear that case, the six week ban and of course, the governor in his State of the State address, say the stage or sorry, asking the journalists somebody to give him the power to appoint judges and the Senate to confirm them. Don't think the House is going to support that reform. But you can always hope. I don't think people like to give their power away. So a lot to a lot at play there. Kirk will be watching with you. And we'll be checking in as the legislature continues. That's Kirk Randazzo. He's a USC political science professor. And he's also the department chair there, Kirk. Thanks as always.

Kirk Randazzo, University of South Carolina: You're welcome. Thanks again for the invitation.

Gavin Jackson: To stay up to date with the latest political news throughout the week. Check out the South Carolina Lede. It's a podcast that hosts on Tuesdays and Saturdays that you can find on or wherever you find podcasts, for South Carolina ETV, I'm Gavin Jackson. Be well South Carolina.