Republicans hosting presidential candidates at state convention this weekend

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush greets the staff and board members at the headquarters of Sistercare, a safe shelter for battered women in Columbia on March 17 after he toured shelters in the area for domestic violence victims with Gov. Nikki Haley.

Five Republican presidential hopefuls, including early front-runner Jeb Bush, will be in Columbia this weekend for the GOP state convention, providing the largest in-state audience of the year in the race for the White House.

In addition to Bush, presidential contenders scheduled to attend all or part of the weekend events include U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

About 1,500 delegates and other attendees from around the state will take part in party events, which kick off Friday night with the party’s Silver Elephant fundraising dinner.

“This is undoubtedly the largest gathering of Republicans in the state this year,” said S.C. party Chairman Matt Moore. “These delegates represent a broad cross section of the Republican Party in South Carolina.”

Moore is seeking his second term as head of the party. He faces a challenge from Upstate Republican Mark Powell but still remains the favorite to repeat.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will speak at the Friday night dinner, which comes in advance of Saturday’s convention. The dinner also honors the late Gov. Jim Edwards of Mount Pleasant, who died last year at 87.

Priebus is expected to give the party a pep talk about the importance of turning out the vote, and on South Carolina’s role as the first-in-the-South presidential primary, likely to be held on Feb. 20.

But Priebus must also address how the party will manage the coming months, as the field of GOP hopefuls could hit 20 candidates if all those mentioned as exploring White House bids get in the race.

Beyond the candidate speeches, the convention is an opportunity for party members to make statements and pass resolutions that touch on a variety of state, local and federal topics.

One resolution endorses trying to recognize May 1 as “Cold War Victory Day” in South Carolina. May 1 also marks the “May Day” workers’ holiday notably celebrated in the former communist bloc — a coincidence not lost on the resolution’s sponsors.

“Millions of American men and women served in uniform and in clandestine service agencies, tasked with defending the United States and its allies during the Cold War, in an undeclared conflict which lasted from 1945 to 1991,” the resolution reads in part.

Other resolutions support teaching the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in public schools; support for the unborn; allowing the U.S. Senate to weigh in on the Obama administration’s proposed nuclear pact with Iran; and supporting the nation of Israel.

The gatherings will be held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St. The convention will convene at 10 a.m. Saturday. The 48th annual South Carolina GOP Silver Elephant Dinner begins at 6 p.m. Friday.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.