Tim Scott to attend presidential forum alongside Haley

It is the surest sign yet that the two South Carolinians are on a primary collision course.

Tim Scott speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition annual leadership meeting on November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tim Scott and Nikki Haley will participate in a presidential candidate forum set for next month in South Carolina, another sign that the two popular Palmetto State Republicans are on a track to becoming primary opponents.

Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, and Scott, the state’s junior senator, are confirmed to speak at the Palmetto Family Council’s “Vision ‘24” forum, said Mitch Prosser, the conservative advocacy group’s director of outreach. The event is scheduled for March 18 and organizers have invited other potential and declared 2024 presidential candidates as well.

Haley is scheduled to formally announce her presidential campaign on Wednesday in Charleston, making her the first major Republican to do so after former President Donald Trump got into the race in November.

Scott, who has planned a “listening tour” to begin Thursday in Charleston, followed by a multi-day visit to Iowa next week, is building out a staff of potential presidential campaign aides and making calls to donors. But he has so far held off on making his plans explicit or putting a campaign team on the ground in South Carolina, as Haley has. His participation in the “Vision ‘24” forum is one of the surest signs yet that he is, indeed, plotting a White House run.

Scott would start a presidential run with significant financial resources. His Senate campaign had more cash on hand at the end of 2022 — nearly $21.8 million — than any other federal campaign account. All of that money could roll over into a presidential campaign.

Scott’s political operation also includes two cash-flush super PACs that started the year with $16 million in the bank. The groups, Opportunity Matters Fund and Opportunity Matters Fund Action, have been funded by a number of Republican megadonors who are fans of Scott, including Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, who has sent $35 million to one of the super PACs over the last two and a half years. The super PACs also have an aligned nonprofit, Opportunity Matters Network, which can raise and spend unlimited money and does not have to disclose its donors.

Dave Wilson, president of the Palmetto Family Council, noted the high stakes in South Carolina this year, as frontrunners like Trump and, potentially, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may have to contend with two well-liked homegrown Republicans. South Carolina is one of the GOP’s earliest presidential primary states.

“The fact that this year you have the potential of two South Carolinians in the race completely changes the dynamic,” Wilson said. “We expect people to show up in our state. We expect them to come to our restaurants and go to our meetings and attend our churches and have those handshake conversations that really put people to the test.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited South Carolina nearly 10 times since leaving the White House in January 2021, served as keynote speaker for the Palmetto Family Council’s annual dinner that year.

In addition to Trump, DeSantis and a handful of other prospective presidential candidates, the group has invited other conservative leaders to fill speaking slots at the North Charleston event. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is also scheduled to speak.

Both Haley and Scott are also expected to attend a private forum in Austin next week where top GOP donors will hear from a cast of potential presidential candidates who aren’t named Trump.