COLUMBIA, SC – COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina made it official Friday: He’s running for president.
Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, filed filings 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 stirred partisan strife 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 pillar of his political identity. Still, he rejects the notion that racism is still a powerful force in society, calling his candidacy and rising out of generational poverty the fulfillment of a dream only possible in America.
Scott, who last month formed an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise and spend money while considering a White House campaign, has a formal announcement Monday at Charleston Southern University, a private Baptist college, and Scott’s Alma mater in his hometown of North Charleston.
Scott has already scheduled TV commercials to air in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire early next week. This is the most significant advertising spend by a prospective or declared candidate in the early stages of the 2024 nominating campaign.
Scott tries to focus on hopeful issues and avoid divisive language in order to distance himself from the grievance-based politics favored by those who lead the GOP field, like former President Donald Trump and the Florida governor , Ron DeSantis, who hasn’t entered the race yet, likely will soon.
The senator refuses to align his own life story with the racial inequalities in the country. 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 refutes their lies”.
During a visit to Iowa in February, where the first Republican presidential election is taking place, Scott spoke of a “new American dawn” based on collaboration.
“I see a future where common sense has restored common ground, where we have created real unity, not by abandoning our conservatism, but by winning converts to our conservatism,” he said.
But Scott has his limitations. During the same trip, he railed against political correctness in a similar vein to Trump and DeSantis.
“If you wanted a plan to ruin America, you would do exactly what Joe Biden has done for the far left in our country for the past two years,” he said. “Tell every white kid they’re oppressors. Tell black and brown children that their destiny is sorrow, not greatness.”
Scott often talks about his hard roots. He was raised by a single mother who, after divorcing her father, worked long hours as a nurse to care for him and his brother. Scott, who describes himself as a lackluster student, earned a degree in political science from Charleston Southern University before starting an insurance business.
Scott’s faith is an integral part of his political and personal history. Scott describes himself as a “born again believer” and frequently quotes the Scriptures at campaign events. In his campaign speech, he weaves together his reliance on spiritual guidance and uses “Faith in America” to describe his series of political appearances before joining the race.
On many issues, Scott agrees with mainstream Republican positions. He wants to reduce government spending and limit abortions, and says that if elected president, he would sign federal legislation banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But Scott has urged the party to take some action to overhaul the police force since the killing of George Floyd, occasionally criticizing Trump’s response to racial tensions. Scott called it “unjustifiable” after Trump retweeted a post – which he later deleted – that contained a racist slogan associated with white supremacists.
In the days following Trump’s widely criticized response to a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Scott said Trump’s principles had been compromised and without some introspection “it will be difficult for him to regain … moral authority.”
Throughout their disagreements, however, Scott maintained a generally friendly relationship with Trump, saying in his book that the former president “listened carefully” to his perspectives on race-related issues.
A potentially tougher competitor for Scott will be Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the UN, who fueled Scott’s political rise when she was South Carolina governor and nominated him to the Senate in 2012.
Running for the seat held by Republican Jim DeMint, Scott became the first black Southern Senator since shortly after the Civil War. In a 2014 special election for 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 re-election last year and had long said his current term, which runs until 2029, would be his last.
As a senator, Scott was a major voice for Republicans on issues like policing and was the GOP’s chief negotiator on legislation that eventually stalled in 2021. He also spoke in the Senate about his personal experiences as a black man in America.
“I felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted just for being yourself,” Scott said in 2016, recounting how he was in was stopped seven times in a year . He was once pulled over by a US Capitol Police officer who recognized the Senate lapel pin Scott was wearing – but did not recognize Scott.
Scott rejects the notion that the country is inherently racist and rejects the doctrine of critical race theory, an academic framework that espouses the idea that the country’s institutions perpetuate white dominance.
“Listen to me clearly: America is not a racist country,” Scott said. “It is backward to fight discrimination with different forms of discrimination. And it is wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly end debates in the present.”
Scott believes parents should have more control over what their children learn about race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public schools.
Scott has spoken before the Republican National Convention twice — in 2012 as a first-term congressman and in 2020 as a senator. At the last GOP convention, he hailed Trump for building the “most inclusive economy ever” and for supporting funding for historically black colleges and universities.
Following Biden’s victory in the White House, Scott was tasked with providing the Republican Party with a response to the new president’s first address to Congress.
Other contestants in the 2024 GOP contest include entrepreneur and Woke, Inc. author Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and radio host Larry Elder. DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are among those expected to announce campaigns soon.
If Scott succeeds, he would become the first black person to win the Republican presidential nomination and the second to be elected president, after Barack Obama in 2008.
Scott often mentions that his family “made it from cotton to Congress in one lifetime” – a reference to his grandfather, who left elementary school to pick cotton in the Deep South.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont of Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at