South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson was on stage with presidential candidates in Rock Hill and Myrtle Beach last month, and he’ll be on stage with one in Greenville today.
Wilson plans to preside over 11 more such forums with Republican White House hopefuls before South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential preference primary on Feb. 20.
He says his purpose is to help Palmetto State Republicans make their choice for the White House by prompting the candidates to share their judicial philosophies and views on various constitutional questions.
But the forums have another effect as well: They help build Wilson’s profile in case he wants to run for governor in 2018.
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And it doesn’t hurt for Wilson to befriend national candidates who can help him raise money in case he decides he’d like to move into the Governor’s Mansion.
For now, Wilson says he won’t even entertain the thought of running for governor until after the 2016 election cycle.
“I’m so busy it’s not even something that’s on my radar,” he told The Greenville News.
He said a fundraiser in Greenville last month — with a long list of well-known GOP donors on the sponsors list — had to do with his re-election for a third term as attorney general.
Of course, he could always use the same campaign account for a gubernatorial run if he decided to.
Wilson’s reluctance to talk about his political future hasn’t dampened speculation he’ll run for governor.
For example, Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio talk show host with a national audience, introduced Wilson during a June broadcast as “maybe the next governor” of South Carolina.
The presidential forums are taking place under the auspices of the Conservative Leadership Project, a nonprofit organization that Wilson said was formed by some of his friends as a vehicle for the series.
The one-hour sessions began in Rock Hill on Sept. 3 with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Wilson hosted former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina in Myrtle Beach on Sept. 22.
The third forum takes place today at Furman University with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
It starts in McAlister Auditorium at 2:30 p.m., with doors opening at 1 p.m.
The next forum is Oct. 12 with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in West Columbia. For more information on the forums, go to www.clpforums.com.
State Rep. Tommy Pope, a York Republican who is the only announced gubernatorial candidate so far, said he thinks the presidential forums are a good thing for Wilson to do as attorney general.
“It’s good if he’s not running for anything else,” Pope said. “If he is, I think it’s smart too.”
Wilson said Thursday that he’d probably endorse a presidential candidate but not before every GOP White House hopeful has a chance to appear at one of his forums.
The 42-year-old saw combat in Iraq as an Army artillery officer before he was elected South Carolina’s chief prosecutor and legal counsel in 2010.
He’s the adopted son of Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Columbia and a past chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
The younger Wilson remains active in the military as a judge advocate in the South Carolina Army National Guard with the rank of lieutenant colonel.