DEM 2016 Convention

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

J. Scott Applewhite

COLUMBIA — Ohio congressman Tim Ryan will headline the South Carolina Democrats' annual Blue Palmetto fundraising dinner later this month, the party announced Monday.

First elected to Congress in 2002, Ryan made waves in 2016 when he challenged California Democrat Nancy Pelosi for her position as House minority leader.

Though Ryan fell short, the 63 votes he received were considered a surprisingly number and a signal of unrest among rank-and-file Democrats.

Since then, Ryan has taken his message around the country that Democrats need to branch out beyond coastal elites and to reach the blue-collar communities that helped elect President Trump.

South Carolina is home to one of Pelosi's top allies, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, the third-ranking House Democrat.

In recent months, Ryan also has visited Iowa and New Hampshire — two other early presidential primary states — stoking chatter that he may launch a White House bid in 2020.

Also speaking at the dinner will be Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who unsuccessfully challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014.

Democrats pointed to her as an example of a politician who has shown how to make inroads in traditionally red states.

"Looking at our field of candidates for 2018, there are a lot of similarities to Secretary Grimes and Congressman Ryan," state Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson said. "I see South Carolina Democrats who are ready to get to work for the people, leaving the politics at home, and who will get results."

General admission to the dinner, set for April 20 in Columbia, costs $125.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina statehouse and congressional delegation. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.