Conservative Political Action Conference

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. File/Carolyn Kaster/AP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will be the keynote speaker at U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan's Faith & Freedom BBQ, an annual fundraiser in Anderson that doubles as a celebration of service members.

It's also a meet-and-greet for state and national conservatives eyeing higher office.

This year's event, set for Aug. 28, will feature some in a growing field of 2018 South Carolina gubernatorial hopefuls, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant.

Ernst's participation could also spark speculation she's exploring opportunities to boost her national profile for 2020 — if the GOP presidential field becomes open — or 2024.

Her home state hosts the Iowa caucuses, the first place where voters cast ballots in the presidential primary. South Carolina is third in the primary election sequence. 

Ernst was elected to the Senate in 2014 after more than two decades of military service, which included a tour of duty in Kuwait during the war in Iraq. She has become a rising star in national GOP politics and also hosts her own annual fundraiser that draws party luminaries called the Roast and Ride, featuring motorcycles and barbecue.

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This year's event featured U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Vice President Mike Pence.

In a statement announcing her participation in the Faith & Freedom BBQ, Duncan said he is "honored to have the Senate's first female combat veteran in South Carolina to help honor veterans and first-responders, as well as celebrate the freedom that we enjoy as Americans.

"Joni is a strong conservative who has fought against the status quo in Washington from day one," Duncan continued. "I know the public will be exited to welcome a fighter like Joni to South Carolina."

"I'm thrilled to attend Congressman Duncan's annual Faith and Freedom BBQ, and to honor and celebrate our veterans, military and first-responders," Ernst said. "I'm looking forward to a night of South Carolina BBQ and discussions about conservative solutions to ensure our freedoms are protected and our voices are heard in Washington." 

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier's Washington correspondent. Reach her at 843-834-0419 and follow her @emma_dumain.

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