Trump kicks off the 2024 run with visits to New Hampshire, South Carolina

SALEM, NH (AP) – Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 White House bid with a stopover in New Hampshire on Saturday before heading to South Carolina. Appearances in early-voting states marked the first campaign events since announcing its last run more than two months ago.

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“We start. We’re starting right here as a presidential candidate,” he told party leaders at the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting in Salem before stopping in Columbia late afternoon to introduce his leadership team from South Carolina. “I’m more angry and committed now than I’ve ever been.”

These states host two of the party’s first three nominating contests, giving them tremendous power in choosing the nominee.

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

“The gun has been fired and the campaign season has begun,” said Stephen Stepanek, outgoing leader of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Trump announced that Stepanek will serve as his senior adviser on his state election campaign.

While Trump remains the only declared presidential candidate for 2024, potential challengers are expected to include 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 , will launch their campaign in the coming months.

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In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster, US Senator 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 find support from state lawmakers, even from some who have avidly backed him on previous runs.

Some have said that more than a year after the primary is too early to make any confirmations or that they are waiting to see who else will run. Others have said it is time for the party to move past Trump to a new generation of leaders.

Republican Representative RJ May, vice chairman of the South Carolina state House Freedom Caucus, said he will not be attending Trump’s event because he is focused on that group’s legislative battle with the GOP caucus. He indicated that he is open to other candidates in the 2024 race.

“I think we’re going to have a very strong slate here in South Carolina,” said May, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. He added, “I would 100% put a Donald Trump over Joe Biden.”

Dave Wilson, president of the conservative Christian nonprofit Palmetto Family, said some conservative voters may have concerns about Trump’s recent comments that Republicans, who are unequivocally anti-abortion, cost the party in November’s election.

“It’s giving some people in the conservative ranks of the Republican Party pause as to whether we need the process to sort itself out,” said Wilson, whose group hosted Pence 2021 for a speech. He added: “You keep doing it, you gotta earn your vote. Nothing can be taken for granted.”

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Wilson acknowledged that Trump “did some phenomenal things while he was president,” like securing a Conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, and said South Carolina GOP voters may be “looking for a candidate who isn’t.” not only be the standard-bearer for now, but also continue to build momentum across America for conservatism for decades to come.”

But Gerri McDaniel, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and will attend Saturday’s event, dismissed the idea that voters were ready to walk away from the former president.

“Some media keep saying that he is losing his support. No he isn’t,” she said. “It’s only going to get bigger than before because there are so many people who are angry about what’s happening in Washington.”

The South Carolina event, held at a government building surrounded by elected officials, is somewhat uncharacteristic of a former reality TV star, who has typically favored large rallies and attempted to cultivate an outsider image. But the reality is that Trump is a former president trying to retake the White House by contrasting his tenure with the current administration.

Rallies are also expensive, and Trump, notoriously frugal, added new financial challenges when he decided to start his campaign in November — far sooner than many allies had called for. In doing so, he is subject to strict fundraising regulations and prohibits him from using his well-funded executive PAC to pay for such events, which can cost millions of 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 been the site of some of South Carolina’s most notable political news moments, including Haley’s signing of a bill in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds and McMaster’s signing of legislation in 2021 banning abortion in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy . The state Supreme Court recently ruled the abortion law unconstitutional, and McMaster has pledged to seek a rehearing.

Trump’s burgeoning campaign has already sparked controversy, notably when he dined with Holocaust-denying white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a spate of anti-Semitic comments. Trump was also widely ridiculed for selling a series of digital trading cards depicting him as a superhero, cowboy, and astronaut, among other things.

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

Still, Trump remains the only announced candidate for 2024, and early polls show he’s a favorite for his party’s nomination.

Stepanek, who was required to remain neutral at Saturday’s party meeting until the end of his term as New Hampshire Party leader, dismissed the significance of Trump’s slow start, which campaign officials say accounts for the time it takes to set up the infrastructure for a national campaign was spent.

In New Hampshire, he said, “there was a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement” for Trump’s re-election. He said Trump’s most loyal supporters remain behind him.

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

Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina and Colvin from New York.


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