South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s potential candidacy for the Republican nomination is gaining momentum. Two days after announcing an exploratory committee for president, he met with donors in a private retreat in a high-end hotel near the heart of Charleston’s downtown. The assembled group, consisting of South Carolina-based donors and national funders committed to Mr. Scott, left the two-day event seemingly bought into his potential candidacy. Mr. Scott defended his strategy, according to two people who attended the retreat, saying he would take a kill-them-with-kindness approach, and he maintained that positivity is core to his personality and to his potential campaign. He added, he would be able to defend himself if he should face negative attacks.
However, his message, at this stage, a mostly positive and Bible-backed homage to America’s future, might play in what many expect to be a vitriolic Republican presidential primary. Senator Scott would enter the presidential primary with a financial advantage: He has roughly $21.8 million in his Senate campaign account. But he will still have to fight for support from donors and voters with another South Carolina powerhouse, former Gov. Nikki Haley, who has already declared her candidacy.
Public polling shows that former President Donald J. Trump maintains a hold on a majority of the party’s base, with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida capturing much of the rest. The super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign has spent nearly $4 million on television ads — most critical of Governor DeSantis — in the last three weeks, according to the advertising tracker AdImpact. Mr. DeSantis’s PAC has returned fire, running an ad suggesting that the former president joined Democrats in supporting gun control.
Mr. Scott’s history and positive message, however, can sometimes seem at odds with the mood of many in his party. But, his message could resonate with a key audience in the Republican primary: conservative evangelical Christians. Mr. Scott has spent significant time focusing on evangelical voters in his tour of early primary states, often meeting with small groups of religious leaders in between quasi-campaign stops. His public remarks are often peppered with quotes from the Bible. In the video announcing his presidential exploratory committee, he pledges to “defend the Judeo-Christian foundation our nation is built on and protect our religious liberty.”
Mr. Scott has already gotten a taste of the added pressure that comes with being a possible presidential contender. At stops in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, the senator did not directly answer reporters’ questions about which abortion restrictions he might support as president. In an interview with NBC News on Friday, he promised to sign “the most conservative, pro-life legislation” that Congress passes if elected president, without throwing his support behind a specific time frame.
Despite the uphill battle to the Republican nomination, Mr. Scott’s compelling personal story of being the son of a single mother and the grandson of a man forced to drop out of elementary school to pick cotton has captured the attention of his supporters. He often mentions his background to highlight a rise he believes would only be possible in America. “It’s a blessing to come from a state like South Carolina, where a kid who grows up in a single-parent household mired in poverty can one day even think about being president of the United States,” he told reporters on Friday. “Only made in America is my story.”