Mon. Feb 26th, 2024



MYRTLE BEACH: Ron DeSantis on Saturday aimed to frame his presidential campaign as one that can best both GOP front-runner Donald Trump and former Gov. Nikki Haley in South Carolina – whose pivotal primary has historically been influential in determining the eventual nominee – although some attendees at one of his three events said they felt the state’s votes were likely to go to Trump next month, no matter what happens.
“I love his message, said David Steding, as he and his wife waited for the Florida governor. “I just don’t think he’s going to win here.”
The Stedings were among hundreds waiting to see DeSantis take the stage at a restaurant just off one of the main thoroughfares of the coastal tourist mecca of Myrtle Beach, a road littered with attractions like miniature golf courses, wax museums and water parks. It was the first of DeSantis’ three-stop swing through South Carolina that reflects his decision to shift his presidential campaign away from New Hampshire just ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation Republican primary, in which it’s not expected that he will perform as strongly as in Iowa.
Trump won Monday’s caucuses with just more than a majority of votes cast, while DeSantis and Haley had been duking it out for a distant second place.
The night after eking out that second-place finish, DeSantis flew straight to South Carolina, as Haley and others shifted their efforts to New Hampshire, where Republicans vote Feb. 24.
DeSantis has been stumping in New Hampshire but has reportedly reallocated the majority of his staff to South Carolina, Haley’s home state. The pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has transferred several of its Iowa staffers to other early states, while laying off the rest.
On Saturday, DeSantis offered a bit of compare and contrast to Haley’s popularity in her home state. As he stood on an elevated platform in front of video screens displaying the logos of his campaign and super PAC, instead of the basketball games they’d usually be playing this time of the year, he asked the crowd to “tell me major achievements of Nikki Haley when she was governor? Anybody?”
After someone shouted out “gas tax” – which both DeSantis and Trump have accused Haley of trying to raise during her six years in office – DeSantis called it notable that “nobody named an achievement,” adding “the hands would shoot up” if a crowd in his home state were asked to enumerate his accomplishments during just over one term in office.
Both DeSantis and Trump have argued that, as South Carolina governor, Haley flip-flopped over her support for a gas tax, with a super PAC supporting Trump’s campaign running a TV ad mashing up clips of State of the State addresses in which she opposed, then called for, such a measure.
Haley has characterized the critiques as evidence that her opponents, particularly Trump, are threatened by her candidacy. Both Trump and DeSantis have omitted a significant part of the gas tax proposal Haley floated as governor, in 2015. In the speech her opponents have cited, Haley went on to say that, “in order to get my signature on any gas tax increase,” South Carolina would also “need to cut our state income tax by 2%.”
That plan died in the state Legislature. South Carolina lawmakers ultimately raised the gas tax under her successor, overriding a veto by Gov. Henry McMaster, Trump’s top backer in the state.
Awaiting DeSantis, Julie Maid said that she was ready to support DeSantis in South Carolina, despite Trump’s lead.
“DeSantis is a straight shooter, and he’ll tell you how it is, but not have the dramatics that Trump does,” Julie Maid said. “DeSantis is my frontrunner.”
Standing behind her in line, Steding wasn’t so sure.
“I’m here,” said Steding, as he and his wife, Shavonne moved their way along the line snaking into the Myrtle Beach venue. “I don’t know if I’m going to vote for him. But I’m here.”





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