Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley plans to launch her presidential campaign in less than two weeks with an event in Charleston, S.C. Sen. Tim Scott will kick off a “listening tour” a day later — from the same city — before following Haley to Iowa. Former vice president Mike Pence will be in Charleston next week.
And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will start traveling the country after the Feb. 28 release of his memoir, headlining back-to-back GOP dinners in Houston and Dallas where “platinum sponsors” who chip in $50,000 will get photos and tickets to a VIP reception.
The race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination is about to kick into higher gear, with Donald Trump soon expected to get his first formal challenger as other Republicans hit the trail in key states and take more visible steps toward campaigns. In this new and more active phase, potential candidates who have quietly laid groundwork in recent months are expected to use the remainder of the winter and then the spring to make the rounds at party fundraisers, hone their message in speeches and court officials and activists in key states.
This Republican primary as a whole is still ramping up slowly compared to 2020, when Democrats had an open race and more than half a a half-dozen candidates in the party had announced campaigns or formed exploratory committees by the end of January. Many would-be Republican hopefuls are still in no rush to formalize their campaigns and make themselves an early target of Trump. The former president in recent days has ramped up his attacks on Haley, DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another potential candidate.
Trump’s trip to New Hampshire and South Carolina last weekend — two speeches and one surprise visit to a restaurant — marked the unofficial start of traditional campaign activities. Now, such events are suddenly popping up on calendars in early nominating states.
“We’re in the preseason,” said Dave Kochel, who was chief strategist on Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. But he added, “there’s no downside to getting into this thing and getting to work.”
Some potential candidates are expected to hold off months longer on official announcements, content to prepare behind the scenes and travel without the weight of a formal campaign. The possible GOP field includes several sitting governors who might wait until their legislative sessions are over this spring to declare their candidacy.
DeSantis in particular “can afford to wait a little bit longer, just because he’s so present on Fox News and the base is so aware of him,” Kochel said. Trump and DeSantis consistently lead the pack in public opinion polls of a hypothetical crowded field, with others registering single-digit support.
Early-primary state trips and ad campaigns could help those lesser-known contenders catch up.
Haley, the former South Carolina governor who later served as ambassador to the U.N. under Trump, is expected to be in New Hampshire on Feb. 16-18 for town hall-style events, according to a person close to her, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal planning. Then, this person said, she will head to Iowa for events starting on Feb. 20. The plans were first reported this week by WMUR and the Des Moines Register.
Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black GOP senator, has also hinted at presidential ambitions, and his team announced travel plans the day after news reports about Haley’s announcement event. Scott plans to speak Feb. 16 at a Charleston GOP event to commemorate Black History Month, then travel to Des Moines to speak Feb. 22 on “the importance of Faith in America.”
Earlier, the Polk County GOP in Iowa had also advertised a Feb. 22 dinner with Scott.
Iowa, the first nominating state in the GOP order, which has long been a magnet for ambitious Republicans, will soon see Kari Lake, the 2022 Republican nominee for governor of Arizona who has continued to deny her loss and is seeking to keep a high profile in the party. Lake is scheduled to appear at a “meet-and-greet” hosted by the Scott County Republican Women next Friday.
DeSantis — who has dodged questions about 2024 but is privately taking steps to prepare — is expected to travel to California right after his Texas stops, for a March 5 event with the GOP of Orange County. Some Republican donors have flocked to DeSantis. But many are waiting to see how the field shapes up before picking a side.
Other Republicans mulling 2024 runs have been open about their decision-making. “I’m certainly giving it very serious consideration,” former Maryland governor Larry Hogan said this week on Fox News. In South Carolina on Friday, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson spoke at his alma mater, Bob Jones University, after telling reporters he continues to “seriously consider” a 2024 bid.
Trump, the only declared candidate, has ramped up attacks on his potential opponents, mocking old footage of Haley and DeSantis on his social media this week and renewing his accusations that rivals are ungrateful. Sharing a 2021 clip of Haley saying she wouldn’t run against Trump for president, the former president wrote on his Truth Social account: “Nikki has to follow her heart, not her honor.”
Speaking Thursday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump also took aim at DeSantis and Youngkin. Trump has started to signal how he intends to attack DeSantis in a primary fight, accusing him recently of trying to “rewrite history” on covid-19 and drawing attention to votes he took as a congressman starting in 2013, such as a nonbinding resolution that advocated raising the retirement age and curbing government spending.
The attacks have been largely one-sided — but DeSantis responded Tuesday with nod to his reelection success — which came two years after Trump lost his bid for another term and at a moment when some in the party have blamed the former president for electoral defeats across the country.
“The good thing is, is that the people are able to render a judgment on whether they reelect you or not,” DeSantis said at a news conference when asked about Trump’s criticism of how he handled the coronavirus pandemic. “And I’m happy to say — you know in my case — not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has had in the history of the state of Florida.”
Some upcoming events will bring potential 2024 contenders together. The Texas Tribune reported this week that a host of Republicans considering bids will join a private fundraiser for a Texas voter registration effort.
The conservative Palmetto Family Council will host a 2024 forum in South Carolina on March 18 — a poster advertises “invited guests” including DeSantis, Haley, Pence, Scott and Trump as well as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem. But it is not clear who, exactly, will attend.