First on Fox: Pence returning to South Carolina as 2024 race heats up

EXCLUSIVE – Former Vice President Mike Pence, a likely 2024 Republican White House contender, is returning next week to South Carolina, the state that holds the third contest in the GOP presidential nominating calendar.

Pence heads to Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday, March 2 to headline a law enforcement roundtable, Fox News has learned. Pence’s ninth trip to the Palmetto State since he left office over two years ago comes amid renewed efforts by Congress to pass police reform legislation after five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee were accused of killing 29-year-old Black man Tyre Nichols last month.

The former vice president will meet with South Carolina sheriffs and police officers from various municipalities in order to ‘push back on the restored ‘Defund the Police’ movement that’s sweeping across the country,’ a Pence aide said.

The roundtable discussion was originally scheduled for Feb. 6, but Pence postponed the trip after his daughter Charlotte Pence Bond went into labor in California. The former vice president and former second lady Karen Pence traveled to be by their daughter’s side for the birth of their second grandchild. 

Pundits have long viewed Pence as a likely 2024 contender, as he spent the past two years crisscrossing the country to campaign and help raise money for Republicans running in the 2022 elections. Besides South Carolina, those travels also took Pence multiple times to Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that kick off the GOP nominating calendar, as he strengthened relationships in the early voting presidential primary and caucus states that usually precede the launch of a White House campaign.

Pence traveled to Iowa last week, to spotlight his opposition to schoolhouse gender-affirming polices. Pence took aim at a gender identity policy implemented by a school district northeast of Cedar Rapids, Iowa that he opposes. He stopped there and in Minneapolis, where a federal court case involving the policy got underway. The Pence-backed Advancing American Freedom political organization and a coalition of Christian groups have filed legal briefs similarly opposed to the school district’s policy.

While in South Carolina next week, Pence will also meet with pastors and give remarks during a book signing at Bob Jones University – a non-denominational evangelical school in Greenville – for his memoir ‘So Help Me God.’ The autobiography gives an account of his career, including his four years serving under former President Donald Trump.

Pence, long a champion to social conservative voters, has made inroads with evangelical voters, who play an outsized role in Republican primary politics in the Palmetto State.

The former vice president’s trip comes two weeks after former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration – launched her 2024 GOP presidential nomination campaign at an event in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Haley likely won’t have home field advantage in Palmetto State to herself, as Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is making moves towards running for the White House. As Fox News first reported earlier this month, Scott kicked off a listening tour and is headed to Iowa on Wednesday. Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and a rising star in the party, has been leading police reform negotiations for the GOP in the chamber.

Another potential Republican presidential contender – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – spent Monday highlighting his support for law enforcement with speeches in New York City and suburban Philadelphia and Chicago – three Democratic-run cities where crime has spiked in recent years.

Pence’s trip to South Carolina also comes amid increased competition for the crucial early voting state. Trump stopped in South Carolina late last month, showcasing the endorsements of Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsey Graham as he made his first campaign swing since launching his third presidential campaign in mid-November.

Pence, in interviews with Fox News and other news organizations, has reiterated when asked about running for president that he and his wife Karen would ‘make a decision wherever we feel called and we’ll go we’re called.’ And behind the scenes, he’s been busy adding to his core team of longstanding advisers and building a team in the key early voting states in preparation for a likely campaign launch.

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