MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. – The U.S.S. Yorktown has become the preferred aircraft carrier of presidential candidates.

On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will become the latest Oval Office aspirant to visit, as part of a five-state campaign swing that kicked off with his official presidential announcement Tuesday.

Paul is expected to talk about his commitment to defense, something he tried to cement as a top priority as his presidential announcement approached.

"We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests," Paul said in his announcement speech Monday. "But we also need a foreign policy that protects American interests and encourages stability, not chaos."

Unlike most things on the campaign trail, using the Yorktown as a prop to showcase a commitment to defense and the military has been a bipartisan affair. Then-Sen. John Kerry launched his presidential campaign in front of the ship in 2003. The Navy veteran was flanked by his Vietnam War crewmates and flags flew in the muggy air. He hammered on the theme of courage and America coming through on the other side of challenges.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) visited the ship multiple times while running for president, including a 2008 rally on the eve of the South Carolina primary. He has a personal, as well as political, connection to it; his grandfather commanded a fleet that included the Yorktown in World War II.

"This ship epitomizes the sacrifice in so many wars. This ship is a living testimony to that," McCain, a fighter pilot and squadron commander who was taken as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said in 2008.

Mitt Romney addressed a group of veterans on the ship in 2011, telling them he would beef up the Navy and increase the number of armed forces personnel. The ship was extremely popular that cycle - Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann also visited.

So what is the Yorktown and why do so many people who run for president speak there?

Most importantly, it's in South Carolina, a crucial early primary state with a strong military bent. It's also in the 350-acre Patriot's Point compound on Charleston Harbor, meaning it can accommodate a lot of people. According to Patriot's Point, it is the fourth largest Naval museum in the country and one of few to have more than one ship. It is also home to the Cold War Memorial and the headquarters of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

The Yorktown was commissioned in April 1943 and played a large role in the Pacific offensive in World War II. According to the museum it earned 11 battle stars for service. It later became an anti-submarine aircraft carrier that saw service in Vietnam. It also picked up the astronauts from Apollo 8 when they splashed into the Pacific Ocean after returning from space. It was decommissioned in 1970.

Paul's speech, to take place on a muggy afternoon, will be an important one. He comes from the dovish wing of the Republican Party but has tacked to the right on defense issues recently, proposing to increase defense spending by $190 million in an amendment that was voted down. At the same time, he has called for curbs on foreign aid and said that a government that is "inept at home" cannot engage in nation-building.

And his message will be unequivocal: he is for a strong national defense.