South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Tim Scott formally announced Monday that he is running for president in 2024. The announcement was held at Charleston Southern University, the Baptist college he attended just outside Charleston, and comes after he filed papers with the Federal Election Commission Friday converting his exploratory committee to a formal campaign.
Scott is a two-term senator who was first appointed to that body in 2013 after the resignation of Republican incumbent Jim DeMint. In taking office, he became the first African American senator from the South since Reconstruction.
In his speech, Scott framed a choice between “victimhood and victory” and “grievance and greatness” in what was an explicit contrast with the left and implicit contrast against some on the right. He pitched his appeal around his biography — he was introduced by his nephew and called his mother onto the stage before he began his formal remarks to present her with a bouquet of roses — while also emphasizing “American greatness.” He asked the crowd, “Are you proud to be an American?” to a raucous response.
In his time on Capitol Hill, Scott has managed to walk a careful line. He has criticized Donald Trump at times, including after Trump’s infamous “good people on both sides” remarks about the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but also spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention. He has built up the voting record of a traditional Republican in the Senate as a social and fiscal conservative with a hawkish foreign policy. However, Scott has been a leader of police and criminal justice reform efforts in the Senate as well, and he helped shepherd Trump’s criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, into law in 2018. Scott was also a leader of the unsuccessful efforts to pass federal police reform legislation in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in 2020 when senators were unable to agree on a bipartisan bill. He also received some national attention for giving the televised response to Joe Biden’s first address to Congress in 2021.
The 57-year-old was raised by a single mother in Charleston and has long talked about how the mentorship from a local Chick-fil-A manager helped him become the first in his family to attend college. Scott eventually became an insurance salesman and was elected as a Republican to the Charleston County Council at the age of 29. After serving 15 years in local government, he was elected to the state House in 2008, where he served one term before mounting a bid for an open congressional seat two years later. Scott defeated the sons of both former Gov. Carroll Campbell and former Sen. Strom Thurmond in order to win his primary. He was elected to two terms in the House before his Senate appointment.
Scott enters the race as an afterthought in polling so far. He constantly polls around 1 percent — not just behind frontrunners like former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but behind more marginal candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy as well. However, he starts off with a huge financial advantage. He’ll be able to transfer $22 million from his Senate campaign account to start his presidential bid and is already consistently spending $6 million to go up on television in early primary states over the next few months. Scott also will be able to rely on a well-financed super PAC backed by major donors like Oracle founder Larry Ellison.
While the South Carolina Republican has a reputation as a “happy warrior” in politics, an advisor familiar with Scott’s plans noted that while the campaign would “be true to him,” it would not be “afraid of drawing contrasts” with rivals.
Scott is not the only candidate from his home state of South Carolina in the field. The state’s former governor Nikki Haley is also running and poised to divide support in the Palmetto State, which holds the first-in-the-South primary.
Although Scott is not running as an explicit Never Trumper, his path to success involves building a coalition of factions in the GOP that have been the most skeptical of Trump, including both traditional establishment and evangelical social conservatives. Scott will pitch his stall to those voters who, like him, voted for Donald Trump but remained traditional Republicans with no patience for the former president’s election denialism (but still very supportive of his foreign policy and tax cuts).
Scott is well thought of by his Senate colleagues. John Thune of South Dakota, the number two Republican in the Senate, will appear with Scott to endorse him on Monday. Thune’s fellow South Dakotan, Mike Rounds, has already endorsed Scott — and another former colleague, Cory Gardner of Colorado, is helping to lead the designed super PAC supporting Scott’s campaign.
Following his announcement, Scott is expected to travel to both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he already has a campaign presence on the ground. The South Carolina senator has made frequent visits to both early states over the past few months.
Update, May 22, 12:30 pm: This story has been updated with Sen. Scott’s comments from his speech today.