Greenville Online: Peace Center to host GOP Presidential hopefuls

People who want to be president of the United States will once again take to the Peace Center stage to woo voters in South Carolina and across the nation.

Citizens United, the conservative activist group famous for winning a Supreme Court case on political spending, plans its third Freedom Summit at the Peace Center on May 9 in conjunction with U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens.

The event will bring at least six potential Republican White House hopefuls to downtown Greenville for a day of stump speeches.

Confirmed to attend, according to Citizens United, are Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Citizens United said it would announce additional speakers later, but Duncan said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush won’t be among them.

“Jeb Bush and I have communicated,” Duncan said. “He has a commencement address in Florida that day that is precluding his having the ability to come.”

Duncan said at least three other South Carolina congressmen – Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Mark Sanford of Charleston – are expected to attend.

A similar event hosted by Citizens United in Des Moines, Iowa, in late January generated national headlines.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another potential GOP presidential candidate, found himself at the top of a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Iowa caucus-goers a few days after delivering his stump speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit. It was hosted by Citizens United in conjunction with U.S. Rep. Steve King.

“Scott Walker was launched at the Iowa Freedom Summit,” said David Bossie, Citizens United president.

A different candidate could catch a wave at the South Carolina summit, he said.

Bossie said each potential candidate at the Greenville event will speak for 20 minutes, and “everybody gets treated exactly the same.”

He said the summit is free for South Carolina conservatives and includes lunch.

Duncan said Bossie talked to him about having a Freedom Summit in South Carolina in September, but at first he was concerned it would take away from his own Faith & Freedom BBQ.

Duncan organizes that annual fundraiser in Anderson each August. Two other potential GOP presidential candidates, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are among the politicians who have attended.

Duncan said he decided to help organize the South Carolina Freedom Summit after attending the Iowa Freedom Summit.

“I think the Peace Center and downtown Greenville is a great way to showcase South Carolina and the Upstate,” he said.

The Greenville summit will take place nine months before South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential preference primary, which is scheduled for mid-February, though no exact date has been announced.

It won’t be the first time presidential candidates have appeared at the Peace Center in front of national media.

In 2004, seven Democratic presidential candidates debated at the Peace Center, including the party’s eventual nominee that year, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

The nationally televised debate was moderated by Tom Brokaw, then anchor of NBC Nightly News, and occurred five days before the South Carolina primary.

Greenville advertising executive Joe Erwin was chairman of the state Democratic Party at the time.

Potential Republican presidential candidates debated at the Peace Center in 2011 when Spartanburg businesswoman Karen Floyd was chairwoman of the state Republican Party.

That debate, eight months before the South Carolina primary, was televised by Fox News and included Santorum, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, among others..

Noticeably absent were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the party’s eventual nominee in 2012, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who won the South Carolina primary that year.

Citizens United hosted a Freedom Summit in New Hampshire last year.

The Washington, D.C.-based group won a landmark legal case in 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and labor unions had a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums advocating for the election or defeat of particular candidates.

Source: Greenville News – Online

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