Sen. Tim Scott Set To Announce Presidential Campaign

tim scott presidential announcement
Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

When Sen. Tim Scott announces his candidacy for president, the South Carolina Republican will try something slightly unusual: He will sell voters on a vision of hope and national reconciliation, rather than the populist grievance currently fueling his competition at the top of the polls.

No one in Washington doubts the messenger. The party looked to Scott, an eloquent orator and the only Black Republican in the Senate, to offer their rebuttal to President Biden’s first address to Congress. The question is whether a primary electorate wants the message.

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“I think the country is ready,” said South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds who became the first member of Congress to endorse Scott this week and who told RealClearPolitics he encouraged Scott to run “well over two years ago.”

“He’s not pointing out our differences. He’s pointing out the good in our country and the opportunities of a united country,” Rounds said of the messenger, likening those attributes to “what Ronald Reagan had.” Of the message itself, one that often sounds like a revival sermon, the senator said, “I think the country is ready for it.” In his estimation, “people are tired of the bickering.”

Scott confided in Rounds that he was “considering” a run, but at the beginning of the Biden presidency, he still needed to do “the pre-work.” Now two years later, according to sources familiar with the plan, that preparation is complete. The senator has sharpened his message. He has built a team. Even as former President Donald Trump sits at 56% in the RealClearPolitics Average, those around him are confident that he can win the nomination.

Scott is expected to kick off his campaign Monday during a rally in Charleston, where campaign staff have already set up headquarters. It is a decision with natural and strategic significance. The state hosts the third-in-the-nation primary, and sources familiar with the plan say that gives the Palmetto State’s chosen son a built-in advantage: The Republican electorate there has already voted for him three times. He won his race last year by 25 points, carrying six of seven congressional districts.

The senator will then travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is set to purchase $6 million worth of broadcast TV, cable, and radio ads. Axios reports that campaign commercials will play on a loop until the first GOP primary debate in August. Many voters in those states already know him.

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“I’m very optimistic that that message of hope and opportunity, for bringing people together, is what we need in this country,” Scott told RCP after a trip to Iowa last year. “I think people are desperate for it –they are thirsty for something fresh and new.”

Scott won’t try to remake the electorate or push the policy envelope, according to sources familiar with his thinking. He has a reputation as a staunch conservative, earning “A” grades from the likes of Heritage Action, the National Rifle Association, and the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. Rather than break new ground, sources close to the senator say he will seek to personalize policy.

“When Republicans start having debates, all the candidates are going to agree on 95% of the issues, and the remaining 5% are unlikely to make a difference,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former adviser on Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. What makes the difference? Conant replied, “Who is the best communicator.”

Scott often shares his faith and story of growing up black and poor in the south. In a video announcing a presidential exploratory committee last month, the senator said his life “disproves the lies” of Democrats who seek to “weaponize race to divide us.”

“I was raised by a single mother in poverty. The spoons in our apartment were plastic, not silver. But we had faith, we put in the work. And we had an unwavering belief that we too, could live the American dream. I know America is a land of opportunity, not a land of oppression,” he said. “I’ve lived it.”

Friends of Scott say the optimism isn’t a schtick. Former South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney called him “one of the most genuinely nice human beings you’re ever going to meet,” then added, “That’s saying something in politics, right?” Before Scott ran for Senate and Mulvaney joined the Trump administration, where he’d eventually become White House chief of staff, the two served in the House. His plans didn’t include the presidency back then, Mulvaney recalled in an interview with RCP. After politics, Scott wanted to find his way to a pulpit.

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“He thought his purpose in life was to reach out and help improve the lives of billions of people,” Mulvaney said. “He believed the ministry was the best way to do it.”

If Scott wasn’t pursuing the White House, Mulvaney believes the senator “would be in a church somewhere preaching.” While those plans have been put on hold, that calling makes the senator a natural fit for evangelical voters looking for a candidate. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t chase women,” Mulvaney said of Scott. “There’s no skeletons in his closet.”

It is up to voters to decide whether they want a nice guy as their champion, and Mulvaney described the coming primary as just as much a referendum on the nation as on the candidate. “If the country is really interested in coming together and healing itself, then Tim Scott is going to get a serious look and could get some considerable traction,” Mulvaney explained. “He’s a special kind of person who has a message that’s hard for other Republicans to deliver.”

Others aren’t so certain. “I don’t see a path for Tim,” Chip Felkel, a longtime Republican consultant in South Carolina, told the New York Times. He said of his party, “We don’t have a lot of Republicans ready to sing ‘Kumbaya.’”

The campaign will have the money to settle that question. Scott has over $21 million in a federal campaign account, making him the best-funded candidate in the race and potentially setting him up for the long haul. And while super PACs supporting other candidates have more cash on hand, they must pay higher rates for advertising by law, meaning those dollars won’t go as far. “When you get into January-February, TV in the early states is crazy expensive,” Conant explained. “PACs will pay a multiple of what the campaign will have to.”

The race has been billed in much of the press as a slug fest between dueling populists Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The former president is the clear front runner, leading DeSantis 56% to 19.9%. On the eve of his announcement, Scott polls at 2%.

“Would I rather be in DeSantis or Trump’s shoes right now? Of course: Their pathways to the nomination look very clear where Tim Scott is starting from further behind,” Conant said before adding, “That’s not to say it can’t be done, especially with how volatile American politics are right now.”

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Mulvaney said he doesn’t expect Scott “to punch Donald Trump in the face.” He still believes his colleague can hold his own on a debate stage. “I don’t know how Trump beats up on Tim Scott like he does with other folks,” he said. “Granted, he will probably find a way because it’s Donald Trump, right? But Tim just doesn’t lend himself to those kinds of attacks because they are not credible.”

There is evidence, though, that the message and messenger are resonating. Don Childress, a real estate developer from Atlanta, donated $5,800 to Scott after the senator gave the Republican response to Biden’s first address before a joint session of Congress. He told RCP that was “a catalytic moment.”

“This is a great country. I think we stand for great moral principles in the world. And yet the leaders that we’ve had, starting with Trump, and to a lesser extent Biden, have just been objectionable,” Childress said in a Friday interview. Though he hasn’t decided on a primary candidate just yet, he said he was drawn to Scott because he wants a president who is “a statesman.”

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

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