Sen. Tim Scott’s preparations for a presidential run are well underway, putting the South Carolina Republican on track to be the next candidate to formally mount a White House bid.
The Palmetto State senator is hosting a donor summit in Charleston next month, the same week he plans to travel to two early nominating states to hold events.
Invitations to Scott’s “Faith in America Summit,” a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, have been going out to both national and South Carolina donors. The retreat is set for April 14 and 15 in Charleston, beginning with a reception and dinner that Friday and a breakfast, policy discussion and “political update” on Saturday.
The donor gathering is the surest sign to date that Scott is preparing to pull the trigger on a 2024 bid for president. But it’s not the only one.
In the days before Scott makes his pitch to donors, he is scheduled to travel to Iowa on April 12 and to New Hampshire on April 13, according to a person familiar with Scott’s plans. Those events follow the senator’s trip to Iowa last month to speak to Drake University students and at the Polk County Lincoln Dinner. After the mid-April donor retreat, Scott will continue to visit early nominating states in the following weeks. He is expected to reach “clarity” on a decision to run for president “sooner rather than later,” according to the person close to the senator.
Scott, who frequently talks about his faith, plans to make a particular play for the evangelical Christian vote in Iowa, where he met with a group of influential pastors in Des Moines last month. It’s a similar strategy to one former Vice President Mike Pence is likely to employ as he seeks to build a viable coalition that can compete with former President Donald Trump’s loyal base and the continued national GOP interest in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, meanwhile, has also focused heavily on Iowa since announcing her presidential campaign in February.
Scott does not have the same national footprint as those Republicans. But he’s working to remedy that. He addressed donors at a Club for Growth retreat earlier this month in Palm Beach, joining declared and likely Republican candidates like DeSantis, Pence, Haley and others.
“It would be a mistake by anyone to think that this is a two-person race,” said former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is heading up the super PAC that’s set to be aligned with Scott’s presidential bid. “Should Sen. Scott get in, I think the doors will open wide.”
The super PAC, Opportunity Matters Fund Action, which is being co-run by Republican strategist Rob Collins, will focus on promoting “Sen. Scott’s record of optimistic conservatism,” Gardner said, and the former senator added that they “anxiously await to see where that message goes.”
In public polling of the potential Republican presidential field, Scott is still registering in the low single digits.
But Scott, a prolific fundraiser popular with both the donor class and with small-dollar contributors, is the only prospective presidential candidate sitting on more than $20 million in hard federal campaign dollars. That money can be transferred directly into a presidential account, in contrast with others mulling a bid who have raised money into super PACs and nonprofit entities. And donors who maxed out for Scott’s last Senate race would also be able to do so again for his presidential bid.
On the presidential stump, Scott is expected to lean into his biography of growing up in a disadvantaged community while focusing on his signature issues of school choice and opportunity zones — tax breaks for business investments in economically distressed areas — as well as fighting “wokeness,” a topic animating much of the Republican primary field.
Despite wide speculation from Republicans that Scott’s presidential campaign would be a play for the vice presidency and that his gentle, genial nature doesn’t lend well to a messy primary fight, his advisers have insisted otherwise, with one calling it “insulting” for operatives and vendors to suggest Scott isn’t up for the task.
“The quickest way to get on the outs with Team Scott is to think of this as an exercise for vice president,” said the adviser to Scott.
But it isn’t inconceivable that a Scott presidential bid could result in a No. 2 spot on a presidential ticket.
An adviser to Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Scott’s home-state colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham has repeatedly urged Trump to consider Scott as a vice presidential pick. Graham has endorsed Trump in the 2024 race.
“Lindsey has been pushing Tim Scott as the running mate since pushing him was possible,” the adviser said, adding that it was “not impractical” to think about Scott in such a role. While Trump still is not spending much time deliberating running mate options, according to his aides, Scott is likely a more realistic contender than some of the party’s firebrands whose names have been floated in the media, such as failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the adviser said.
Scott’s demeanor — “lowkey, a team player, not Trumpian,” the Trump adviser said — would likely be a better fit to serve alongside Trump than someone who is especially interested in the spotlight. So long as Scott avoids serious attacks against Trump in the coming months, his entrance into the race likely wouldn’t hurt his perception inside Trump world.
“If he comes out and says Donald Trump is responsible for Jan. 6 and does the Pence line, it’s probably going to hurt him,” the adviser said. “If he talks about opportunity zones and low taxes and the future, it won’t be a detriment.”
Graham, when asked if he had pitched Scott to Trump as a vice presidential pick, did not suggest otherwise, and said he believes Trump “likes Tim a lot.”
“I’ve said to anybody that will listen that if you’re looking for somebody that can move the ball forward for the Republican Party — if Tim runs, I think he’d be a very credible presidential candidate, but when it comes to VP shopping, he should be on everybody’s short list,” he added.
Trump’s allies favor as wide a primary field as possible, believing that the more candidates that enter, the easier it will be for the former president to secure the nomination.
Similarly to Haley, the former South Carolina governor, Scott is among the most popular politicians in their early-primary home state, where he won reelection in November by 24 points. Scott is also widely liked by senators on both sides of the aisle, and unlike past crowded primary fields, is poised to be the only GOP senator to mount a bid for president this time around.
“It looks like he is as close to making a decision as DeSantis is,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), adding that she plans to stay neutral if both men enter the race.
Marianne LeVine, Sally Goldenberg and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.