Politics & Government

Pompeo scheduled to speak in South Carolina amid speculation on political future

As speculation about his political future continues, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit the early presidential primary state of South Carolina.

Pompeo, a possible 2020 U.S. Senate candidate in his home state of Kansas and widely considered a potential presidential contender in 2024, is making an official trip to Charleston to speak at the Citadel in honor of Veterans Day on Monday.

The speaking engagement at the famed military academy makes sense insofar as Pompeo is a graduate of West Point.

But Pompeo’s itinerary also includes the courtship of prominent state Republican officials and party kingmakers whose support would be essential to future political success in South Carolina.

A source familiar with the secretary’s visit confirmed to McClatchy that Pompeo will sit down with South Carolina’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster.

McMaster’s chief of staff, Trey Walker, told McClatchy that Pompeo wanted to thank McMaster in person for the governor’s successful advocacy of general Robert Caslen — Pompeo’s West Point classmate — to be the next president of the University of South Carolina.

Another source aware of Pompeo’s schedule confirmed that the state party chairman, Drew McKissick, would be among the attendees at a private lunch in Pompeo’s honor Monday following the Citadel remarks.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., will also be meeting with Pompeo over the weekend, a source close to Scott told McClatchy. Scott and Pompeo, a former Republican Wichita congressman, entered the U.S. House together in 2010 and have remained close. The two men were recently spotted having lunch together in the members’ dining room at the U.S. Capitol.

Pompeo remains the top choice of national party leadership to run for an open Senate seat in Kansas in 2020.

He has repeatedly downplayed his interest in the Senate race in public statements, but his multiple trips to Kansas since March have helped fuel speculation of a potential campaign in 2020.

The South Carolina trip could hint at aspirations beyond this election cycle.

“It’s no secret that South Carolina’s one of the three early nominating states. That’s important to Donald Trump in 2020 and that’s important potentially to Mike Pompeo down the road,” said David Kensinger, a Topeka-based GOP strategist who has previously managed Senate campaigns for Republican candidates in Kansas.

If Pompeo were to enter the presidential race in 2024, he might be running against South Carolina native Nikki Haley, the state’s former Republican governor and ex-U.N. ambassador who remains enormously popular in the party and back at home.

The visit to South Carolina also comes at a time when Pompeo is facing heightened scrutiny in Washington as a House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump has raised questions about his leadership of the State Department.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.