DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina made it official Friday: He's running for president.
Scott, the Senate's only Black Republican, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission declaring his intention to seek his party's nomination in 2024. His candidacy will test whether a more optimistic vision of America’s future can resonate with GOP voters who have elevated partisan brawlers in recent years.
The deeply religious 57-year-old former insurance broker has made his grandfather’s work in the cotton fields of the Deep South a bedrock of his political identity. Yet he rejects the notion that racism remains a powerful force in society, and he has cast his candidacy and rise from generational poverty as the realization of a dream only possible in America.
Scott, who last month formed an exploratory committee allowing him to raise and spend money while weighing a White House campaign, has scheduled a formal announcement on Monday at Charleston Southern University, a private Baptist college and Scott’s alma mater, in his hometown of North Charleston.
Scott already has scheduled TV ads to begin airing in the early voting states Iowa and New Hampshire early next week, the most significant advertising expenditure by a potential or declared candidate in the early stages of the 2024 nominating campaign.
Scott tries to focus on hopeful themes and avoid divisive language to distinguish himself from the grievance-based politics favored by those leading the GOP field, such as former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hasn't yet entered the race but is expected to do so soon.
The senator refuses to frame his own life story around the country’s racial inequities. He insists that those who disagree with his views on the issue are trying to “weaponize race to divide us,” and that “the truth of my life disproves their lies.”
During a February visit to Iowa, which holds the first GOP presidential caucuses, Scott spoke of a “new American sunrise” rooted in collaboration.
“I see a future where common sense has rebuilt common ground, where we’ve created real unity, not by compromising away our conservatism, but by winning converts to our conservatism,” he said.
But Scott has his limits. During that same trip, he railed against political correctness in much the same fashion as Trump and DeSantis.
“If you wanted a blueprint to ruin America, you’d keep doing exactly what Joe Biden has let the far left do to our country for the past two years,” he said. “Tell every white kid they’re oppressors. Tell Black and brown kids their destiny is grievance, not greatness.”
Scott speaks often about his hardscrabble roots. He was raised by a single mother who worked long hours as a nurse’s assistant to provide for him and his brother after her divorce from their father. Scott, who describes himself as a lackluster student, graduated from Charleston Southern University with a political science degree before opening an insurance business.
Scott’s faith is an integral part of his political and personal story. Describing himself as a “born-again believer,” Scott often quotes Scripture at campaign events, weaving his reliance on spiritual guidance into his stump speech and using "Faith in America” to describe his series of political appearances before joining the race.
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. Scott called it “indefensible” after Trump retweeted a post — that he later deleted — containing a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.
In the days that followed Trump’s widely criticized response to a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Scott said Trump’s principles had been compromised and that without some introspection, “it will be hard for him to regain ... moral authority.”
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.
A potentially more awkward rival for Scott will be Nikki Haley, Trump's former U.N. ambassador who helped fuel Scott's political rise when she was South Carolina’s governor and appointed him to the Senate in 2012.
In filing the seat that had been held by Republican Jim DeMint, Scott became the first Black senator from the South since just after the Civil War. In a 2014 special election to serve out the remainder of his term, Scott became the first Black candidate to win a statewide race in South Carolina since the Reconstruction era.
He easily won reelection last year and had long said his current term, which runs through 2029, would be his last.
As a senator, Scott has been a go-to Republican voice on issues including policing and was the GOP’s chief negotiator on legislation that ultimately stalled in 2021. He has also spoken on the Senate floor about his personal experiences as a Black man in America.
“I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than just being yourself,” Scott said in 2016, recounting how he was pulled over seven times in a year. He was once stopped by a U.S. Capitol Police officer who recognized the Senate lapel pin that Scott was wearing — but did not recognize Scott.
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 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.”
Scott believes parents should have more oversight over what their kids learn in public schools about race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Scott has twice addressed the Republican National Convention — in 2012 as a first-term congressman and in 2020 as a senator. At the last GOP convention, he praised Trump for building “the most inclusive economy ever” and for supporting funding for historically Black colleges and universities.
After Biden’s White House victory, Scott was tapped to give the GOP response to the new president’s first address to Congress.
Others in the GOP 2024 race include entrepreneur and “Woke, Inc.” author Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and radio show host Larry Elder. DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are among those who are expected to announce campaigns soon.
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.
Scott frequently mentions that his family made it “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime” — a reference to his grandfather who left grade school to pick cotton in the Deep South.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP