COLUMBIA — Eleven Republican candidates will be arriving in South Carolina to participate in a “Take Back America” presidential forum Friday in Greenville and court voters in the state holding the first-in-the-South primary.
Heritage Action for America is sponsoring the forum, which will feature GOP front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, along with their rivals trying to make up ground: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was among the Republican candidates who were not invited to participate because of low poll numbers.
The forum, scheduled to run from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, will be moderated by Gov. Nikki Haley, former S.C. Sen. Jim DeMint and Mike Needham, CEO of Heritage Action.
The forum comes two days after the second televised GOP debate at which Fiorina, Paul, Bush and Walker aggressively stood up to Trump.
Trump has dominated the early going in the campaign with tough talk about undocumented immigrants, eschewing political correctness and promising to “Make America Great Again.” His opponents have ripped into Trump for being long on slogans and insults but short on realistic solutions and policies.
Carson has quietly crept up on Trump, a surprise to many considering the retired neurosurgeon has drawn little national media coverage for his low-key campaign.
Trump’s and Carson’s gains have come at the expense of their more establishment rivals, particularly the early favorites Bush and Walker. Neither Trump nor Carson have held public office, and that’s been to their advantage with voters looking for outsiders with fresh ideas, according to political observers.
“Anybody who has held any political office, I think is viewed with skepticism,” said Gibbs Knotts, College of Charleston political science professor. “And I think there’s some element of just Trump being willing to ‘tell it like it is,’ almost a backlash to this era of political correctness.”
Something to watch for at the forum is what candidates will say to appeal to South Carolinians. In the past, candidates courting voters in the Palmetto State had to walk a fine line between appealing to the party’s right wing, which typically turns out for primaries, and more middle-of-the-road voters who cast ballots on Election Day, Knotts said.
“But so much of the Republican Party has gone to the right — not just in South Carolina — while Democrats have gone to the left,” Knotts said. “I don’t know if (candidates) will even worry about going too far to the right. Now they’re all trying to outdo each other to appeal to the Republican base.”
Reach Cynthia Roldan at (843) 577-7111.