(Bloomberg) -- Nikki Haley and Tim Scott made competing pitches to a conservative Christian group in their home state of South Carolina, pitting a declared 2024 Republican presidential candidate against a potential primary rival.

Their speeches at the Palmetto Family Council’s “Vision 24” forum in North Charleston signaled the importance of South Carolina, the third early-voting GOP primary state behind Iowa and New Hampshire. Haley is the state’s former governor, ex-ambassador to the United Nations and one of four Republicans to have announced a presidential bid, while Scott, the state’s junior senator, has signaled he’s weighing a candidacy.

With plenty of empty seats in the convention center ballroom on Saturday, there was little mention of the party’s leading candidate – former President Donald Trump – whom organizers had invited along with his closest competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence. 

Haley and Scott spoke the same day that Trump roiled the political landscape by saying he expects to be arrested next week on New York charges and calling for protesters to “take our nation back.”

“We don’t want to ruin America,” said Scott. “We want to restore faith in America. Having faith in America doesn’t mean we always get it right.” 

He shared an often-told anecdote about his grandfather: “The man who had to stop school to pick cotton lived long enough to watch his grandson pick out a seat in Congress.”

While Scott hasn’t formally announced a presidential bid, he launched a nationwide “listening tour” with a stop in Iowa after Haley’s Feb. 15 rollout of her presidential campaign. 

Haley evoked her decision to call a state Day of Prayer shortly before the 2015 Mother Emanuel church shooting in Charleston during her governorship.

“I know God protected us,” Haley said. “That was God getting us prepared for what was going to be a horrific tragedy. God got us through it.”

A Quinnipiac University Poll released March 15 showed Trump with 49% support among Republican voters, DeSantis at 31%, Haley at 5% and Scott at 1%. Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur who has also officially declared, didn’t reach 1% in the poll.

“What I can tell you as a fact, the poll numbers you’ve seen today are not going to be the poll numbers you see a year from now,” Haley said on stage at the forum.

Trump has maintained a grip on roughly a third of Republican voters, though polls have shown DeSantis within striking distance. But Haley and Scott occupy similar spaces within the GOP and a large 2024 primary field could make it easier for Trump to win the nomination.

“Donald Trump’s got a good base vote in his pocket right now,” said Katon Dawson, a former state Republican Party chairman. “And I don’t think they’re going anywhere. I don’t know if they can chip away. If there are three people in that primary, there’s not any chipping away there.”

Some attendees said they’d like to see the two Republicans from the Palmetto State Republicans on a presidential ticket together. 

“Both of them together would be an amazing team,” said Jennifer Prill of Bluffton, South Carolina.

Haley and Scott have a long history in South Carolina politics. While serving as governor, Haley appointed Scott to replace retiring US Senator Jim DeMint in 2012.

“Governor Haley and Tim Scott are friends, they’re not adversaries,” said Dawson. “I don’t think you’ll find those two going at each other in South Carolina. I think if anything, you’ll find themselves complementing each other.”

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.