NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — As he launches his presidential campaign on Monday, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is officially wading into a GOP primary battle already largely dominated by two commanding figures: former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Scott, the only Black Republican senator, will make his campaign announcement in his hometown of North Charleston after making it official last week with the Federal Election Commission. The late morning event is taking place at Charleston Southern University, Scott’s alma mater and a private school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Then he’ll spend Tuesday with donors in Charleston before a whirlwind, two-day campaign swing to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Like others in the GOP race, including former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and “Woke, Inc.” author Vivek Ramaswamy, Scott will have to find a way to stand out in a field led by Trump and DeSantis, the latter of whom could announce his own bid as early as this week.
But Scott’s senior advisers note that political environments can shift over the course of a primary campaign, pointing to early in the 2016 race when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were seen as the top GOP candidates before Trump became the party’s nominee.
One way Scott, 57, hopes to make his mark is by leaning into more optimistic rhetoric than his conservative rivals. With his Christian faith an integral part of his political and personal story, Scott often quotes Scripture at his campaign events, weaving his reliance on spiritual guidance into his stump speech and even bestowing the name “Faith in America” on his pre-launch listening tour.
In terms of Scott’s political strength, his team points to his most recent Senate reelection in November, when Scott defeated his Democratic opponent by more than 20 percentage points. Such overwhelming support in a state that votes early in the GOP’s presidential nominating calendar bodes well for Scott’s electability on a larger scale, his advisers say.
There’s also the matter of money. He will enter the 2024 race with more cash on hand than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history. He had $22 million left in his campaign bank account at the end of his 2022 campaign and plans to immediately transfer that to his presidential coffers.
It’s enough money, his team says, to keep Scott on the air with continuous TV ads in early voting states until the first round of votes next year.
On many issues, Scott aligns with mainstream GOP positions. He wants to reduce government spending and restrict abortion, saying he would sign a federal law to prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy if elected president.
But Scott has pushed the party on some policing overhaul measures since the killing of George Floyd, and he has occasionally criticized Trump’s response to racial tensions. Throughout their disagreements, though, Scott has maintained a generally cordial relationship with Trump, saying in his book that the former president “listened intently” to his viewpoints on race-related issues.
When he was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Nikki Haley in 2012, Scott became the first Black senator from the South since just after the Civil War. Winning a 2014 special election to serve out the remainder of his term made him the first Black candidate to win a statewide race in South Carolina since the Reconstruction era.
He has long said his current term, which runs through 2029, would be his last.
Scott rejects the notion that the country is inherently racist and has repudiated the teaching of critical race theory, an academic framework that presents the idea that the nation’s institutions maintain the dominance of white people.
“Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country,” Scott has said. “It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
If Scott is successful, he would be the first Black person to win the Republican presidential nomination and the second elected to the presidency, following Barack Obama in 2008.
In a video announcing his exploratory committee earlier this year, Scott positioned himself as the antidote to the “radical left: a self-made success story as the son of a single mother who overcame poverty. He also bemoaned Democratic leaders as needlessly dividing the country by fostering a “culture of grievance.”
Other Republicans are still deciding whether to wade into the presidential race, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
President Joe Biden is seeking reelection, a decision that has largely cleared the Democratic field.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press