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Trump Kicking Off 2024 Run             01/28 09:43

   Former President Donald Trump is set to kick off his 2024 White House bid on 
Saturday with visits to a pair of early-voting states, his first campaign 
events since announcing his latest run more than two months ago.

   COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump is set to kick off his 
2024 White House bid on Saturday with visits to a pair of early-voting states, 
his first campaign events since announcing his latest run more than two months 
ago.

   Trump will be the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire GOP's annual meeting 
before traveling to Columbia, South Carolina, where he is set to introduce his 
state leadership team. New Hampshire and South Carolina hold two of the party's 
first three nominating contests, giving them enormous power in selecting the 
nominee.

   Trump and his allies hope the events will offer a show of force behind the 
former president after a sluggish start to his campaign that left many 
questioning his commitment to running again. In recent weeks, his backers have 
reached out to political operatives and elected officials to secure support for 
Trump at a critical point when other Republicans are preparing their own 
expected challenges.

   "The gun is fired, and the campaign season has started," said Stephen 
Stepanek, outgoing chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party who served as 
co-chair of Trump's 2016 campaign in the state.

   While Trump remains the only declared 2024 presidential candidate, potential 
challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike 
Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was Trump's ambassador to 
the United Nations, are expected to get their campaign underway in the coming 
months.

   In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and several 
members of the state's congressional delegation plan to attend Saturday's event 
at the Statehouse. But Trump's team has struggled to line up support from state 
lawmakers, even some who eagerly backed him during previous runs.

   Some have said that more than a year out from primary balloting is too early 
to make endorsements or that they' are waiting to see who else enters the race. 
Others have said it is time for the party to move past Trump to a new 
generation of leadership.

   Republican state Rep. RJ May, vice chair of South Carolina's state House 
Freedom Caucus, said he wasn't going to attend Trump's event because he was 
focused on that group's legislative fight with the GOP caucus. He indicated 
that he was open to other candidates in the 2024 race.

   "I think we're going to have a very strong slate of candidates here in South 
Carolina," said May, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. He added, "I would 
100% take a Donald Trump over Joe Biden."

   Dave Wilson, president of conservative Christian nonprofit Palmetto Family, 
said some conservative voters may have concerns about Trump's recent comments 
that Republicans who opposed abortion without exceptions had cost the party in 
the November elections.

   "It gives pause to some folks within the conservative ranks of the 
Republican Party as to whether or not we need the process to work itself out," 
said Wilson, whose group hosted Pence for a speech in 2021. He added: "You 
continue to have to earn your vote. Nothing is taken for granted."

   Acknowledging that Trump "did some phenomenal things when he was president," 
like securing a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority, Wilson said South 
Carolina's GOP voters may be seeking "a candidate who can be the 
standard-bearer not only for now but to build ongoing momentum across America 
for conservatism for the next few decades."

   But Gerri McDaniel, who worked on Trump's 2016 campaign and will be 
attending Saturday's event, rejected the idea that voters were ready to move on 
from the former president.

   "Some of the media keep saying he's losing his support. No, he's not," she 
said. "It's only going to be greater than it was before because there are so 
many people who are angry about what's happening in Washington."

   The South Carolina event, at a government building, surrounded by elected 
officials, is in some ways off-brand for a former reality television star who 
typically favors big rallies and has tried to cultivate an outsider image. But 
the reality is that Trump is a former president who is seeking to reclaim the 
White House by contrasting his time in office with the current administration.

   Rallies are also expensive, and Trump, who is notoriously frugal, added new 
financial challenges when he deciding to begin his campaign in November -- far 
earlier than many allies had urged. That leaves him subject to strict 
fundraising regulations and bars him from using his well-funded leadership PAC 
to pay for such events, which can cost several million dollars.

   Officials expect Trump to speak in the second-floor lobby of the Statehouse, 
an opulent ceremonial area between the House and Senate chambers.

   The venue has played host to some of South Carolina's most notable political 
news moments, including Haley's 2015 signing of a bill to remove the 
Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds and McMaster's 2021 signing 
of legislation banning abortions in the state after around six weeks of 
pregnancy. The state Supreme Court recently ruled the abortion law 
unconstitutional, and McMaster has pledged to seek a rehearing.

   Trump's nascent campaign has already sparked controversy, most particularly 
when he had dinner with Holocaust-denying white nationalist Nick Fuentes and 
the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a series of antisemitic 
comments. Trump also was widely mocked for selling a series of digital trading 
cards that pictured him as a superhero, a cowboy and an astronaut, among others.

   At the same time, he is the subject of a series of criminal investigations, 
including one into the discovery of hundreds of documents with classified 
markings at his Florida club and whether he obstructed justice by refusing to 
return them, as well as state and federal examinations of his efforts to 
overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

   Still, Trump remains the only announced 2024 candidate, and early polling 
shows he's a favorite to win his party's nomination.

   Stepanek, who was required to remain neutral until his term as New Hampshire 
party chair ends at Saturday's party meeting, dismissed the significance of 
Trump's slow start, which campaign officials say accounts for time spent 
putting infrastructure in place for a national campaign.

   In New Hampshire, he said, "there's been a lot of anticipation, a lot of 
excitement" for Trump's reelection. He said Trump's most loyal supporters 
continue to stand behind him.

   "You have a lot of people who weren't with him in '15, '16, then became 
Trumpers, then became never-Trumpers," Stepanek said. "But the people who 
supported him in New Hampshire, who propelled him to his win in 2016 in the New 
Hampshire primary, they're all still there, waiting for the president."

 
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