COLUMBIA -- U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland will kick off the state Democratic Party's annual convention with a keynote address April 23 at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

The dinner, at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, is the first of a series of events planned for the weekend, including an hour-long gubernatorial debate at 3 p.m. April 24.

All three of the party's candidates for governor -- Education Superintendent Jim Rex, Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston and Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden -- are expected to participate.

The convention will run from 10 a.m. to noon on April 24. The convention and the debate will be held in the center's Exhibit Hall.

South Carolina Republicans won't hold a state convention this year -- they do so only in odd-numbered years -- but their 43rd annual Silver Elephant Banquet also is April 24 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Dinner follows at a private reception at 6:30 p.m. Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, is the event's special guest.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler said she is honored to have Hoyer deliver the keynote address for the dinner, which is the party's signature fundraiser.

"His strong leadership and outstanding accomplishments will inspire South Carolina Democrats as we prepare for the 2010 election," Fowler said in a statement.

"Although Congressman Hoyer represents Maryland, South Carolina Democrats are proud of his work in Congress.

"He is truly a champion of the policies that state Democrats fight for every day, including fiscal responsibility and human and civil rights."

Hoyer became the House Majority Leader in November 2006. He previously served as the Democratic Whip, a position now held by South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn.

Hoyer is a New York native and a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. He was first elected to Congress in 1981.

Rove, nicknamed "The Architect," is a regular contributor on Fox News and a political columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Before his role with Bush, Rove ran a public affairs firm in Texas with a client list that included more than 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states.

"Karl knows what it takes for Republicans to win, and our activists are anxious to hear what he has to say," GOP Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd told CNN recently.

Other events for the Democratic weekend include Clyburn's "World Famous Fish Fry" from 7 to 11 p.m. on April 23 in the parking garage behind the Municipal Association of South Carolina, at 1411 Gervais St. in Columbia, and a stump meeting and barbecue at noon in the convention center ballroom on April 24.