[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/07/art.corker.gi.jpg caption="Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker will deliver the keynote address to the South Carolina GOP's Silver Elephant Banquet."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker will headline the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual Silver Elephant Banquet in May, a state party official tells CNN.
The speaking slot offers the senator a chance to impress the South Carolina GOP establishment at the party’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and because of the state’s crucial role in the presidential nominating process, Corker’s visit could spark chatter about his future political aspirations.
Past speakers at the event have included Mike Pence, George Allen, John McCain, Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan. The banquet was also the setting for two Republican presidential primary debates in 1996 and 2000.
Although Corker isn’t currently thought to have ambitions beyond the Senate, he is regarded as a rising star within the Republican caucus and won plaudits on both sides of the aisle last December for crafting an alternative to President Bush’s plan to bail out the auto industry.
South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson described Corker - the former mayor of Chattanooga who came to the Senate in 2006 after a tough campaign against Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. - as “a conservative that offers common sense solutions to our nation’s toughest challenges.”
The party will make the announcement on Wednesday.
The South Carolina GOP had planned to invite Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to speak at the dinner, according to a state Republican operative familiar with the plans, but discussions with Palin’s political advisers on the East Coast ended after the governor’s staff in Alaska “shot it down.”
Meg Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, said that the governor’s office in Alaska declined the speaking offer two separate times, once in December and again several weeks ago, when the South Carolina GOP put in a second request through the PAC.
Stapleton said Palin is not even considering “the thousands of invitations and requests” she has received until the Alaska legislative session ends on April 19.
“During the tight timeline of the legislative session, the governor is focused on the state and achieving her goals for the state,” Stapleton said. “SarahPAC looks forward to presenting many of the appearance requests to the governor once the session ends in a few weeks.”
The session hasn’t stopped Palin from scheduling two out-of-state trips in the coming months paid for by SarahPAC: She’s appearing at the Vanderburgh County Right to Life banquet in Indiana on April 16, and will travel to upstate New York in June to attend an event honoring Alaska’s 50th anniversary at the childhood home of William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia