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GOP 2016ers descend on South Carolina for cattle call

A pack of Republican presidential hopefuls are gathering in South Carolina to woo conservative activists at Saturday’s Freedom Summit.
CPAC Vignettes
Stacked chairs in the main ballroom are ready to be redeployed for the Ronald Reagan Dinner at CPAC in National Harbor, MD on Friday, February 27, 2015.

A pack of Republican presidential hopefuls are gathering in South Carolina to woo conservative activists at Saturday’s Freedom Summit, a candidate showcase sponsored by Citizens United. 

Scheduled speakers include Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas governor Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, real estate magnate Donald Trump, and former New York governor George Pataki, among others. Fiorina and Carson each declared their presidential candidacies this week. Cruz and Rubio have also announced their runs while the rest are still weighing whether to formally launch a campaign. 

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Conservative advocacy group Citizens United has held candidate showcases in Iowa and New Hampshire as well, each drawing in a similar array of GOP names. The events have already made an impact on the race: Walker’s standing in polls surged after he delivered a well-received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January.

South Carolina is once again poised to play a critical role as an early primary state. Over the last several cycles, its conservative-leaning GOP electorate has offered a juicy opportunity for an insurgent candidate to build momentum, like winner Newt Gingrich in 2012, or for a frontrunner to decisively knock out their upstart rivals, like eventual nominees John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2000. 

Early polling of Republican voters in the state finds the race wide open, with no one cracking even 20%, setting up what’s expected to be a hotly contested fight between a range of candidates.

One potential 2016er who could play an outsized role compared to his national position in the race is native son Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is weighing a run. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee finished a close second in the state in 2008 and performed well in southern races that year and with evangelical voters, who are a major force in South Carolina. Huckabee, who announced his campaign in Hope, Arkansas this week, will hold a campaign event in South Carolina on Friday morning, but is missing the Greenville summit. Graham, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and undeclared former Florida governor Jeb Bush are also not scheduled to attend the event.