COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump is headed back to South Carolina this weekend, attending the biggest athletic event of the year in a state where he boasts strong support heading into next year’s Republican presidential nomination battle.
Trump will be at the Nov. 25 matchup in the state capital of Columbia between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University, his campaign confirmed on Tuesday. He’ll be there at the request of Gov. Henry McMaster, one of Trump’s biggest backers and a South Carolina alumnus, who said last week that Trump had a “standing invitation” to come to the state.
The game, known as the Palmetto Bowl, comes as Trump competes against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, among others, for the 2024 Republican nomination. Haley, who also served as Trump’s first United Nations ambassador, is among a handful of contenders competing for a distant second place to the current GOP front-runner.
Trump, whose 2016 win in South Carolina’s GOP primary helped solidify his position atop the field, has remained popular in the state ever since. He has the support of a slew of top Republicans in the state, including Reps. Joe Wilson and Russell Fry, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and McMaster, who as lieutenant governor was the first statewide-elected official in the country to support his 2016 campaign.
“Gov. McMaster and Lt. Gov. Evette look forward to joining President Trump this Saturday to show him first-hand the passion and tradition that makes this rivalry the greatest in college football,” said Brandon Charochak, a spokesman for McMaster.
The Haley campaign didn’t immediately respond to a message on whether she would also attend the game. An alumna and member of Clemson’s Board of Trustees, Haley often talks on the campaign trail about her friendship with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and her encouraging game-day text exchanges with him.
The annual Clemson-South Carolina matchup is the hottest ticket in South Carolina’s college football realm. Clemson, the all-time leader in the series, is angling to avenge last season’s 31-30 loss, which kept the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff. According to the University of South Carolina, the stadium capacity for Saturday’s game is 77,559.
This year’s game is set for 7:30 p.m. ET at Williams-Brice Stadium, the Columbia home of the University of South Carolina’s Gamecocks. The Clemson Tigers (7-4) are coming off a win over North Carolina. With last week’s victory over Kentucky, South Carolina (5-6) will be facing their in-state rival with bowl eligibility on the line.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP