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Amid 2024 speculation, Scott speaks of racial and partisan splits

South Carolina speech comes ahead of tour that will take him to Iowa

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the keynote address Thursday at the Charleston County GOP Black History Month Banquet at the Citadel Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the keynote address Thursday at the Charleston County GOP Black History Month Banquet at the Citadel Alumni Center in Charleston, S.C. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Tim Scott spoke of the nation’s racial and partisan divisions at a Black History Month dinner Thursday as he prepares to travel to at least one other early voting state in the 2024 presidential nomination process. 

Scott, who sailed to a second full term in November by a nearly 26-point margin, didn’t address whether he plans to run for the White House during his speech to a Charleston County GOP dinner at The Citadel Alumni Center. But the first Black senator from South Carolina recounted his family’s history and how race relations in America have changed for generations in his family. He also highlighted policy priorities, like economic opportunity, policing and education. 

“I’m not here to suggest that things could not get better and I’m going to work every single day to make sure that all Americans play on a level playing field,” Scott said. “That hasn’t always been the case. But today is not 1865. Today is not 1923. We have made tremendous progress, and it’s time that we as a people celebrate the progress we are making.”

Scott said the nation shouldn’t be as divided between political party allegiances as it has historically been over race. 

“Sometimes we just dismiss people because of what they look like. I know how that feels as an African American, but now I understand how it feels as a conservative,” Scott said. “I refuse to be treated as a second class citizen because of the color of my party.”

Nicole Claibourn, who is involved with the Charleston County GOP and attended the dinner, said Scott’s message was “inspirational.” 

“He talks about, you know, how he was judged for his skin color and then being judged for his party affiliation. I absolutely relate to that,” she said. 

Even in Scott’s home state though, voters are weighing several candidates. Scott’s speech came a day after former Gov. Nikki Haley, who appointed Scott to a vacant Senate seat, launched her challenge to former President Donald Trump for the nomination at a Charleston rally. Claibourn said it was too early to know who she would support, but said she’d like to see Scott run.

Michael Craggs, a teacher who said he supports Trump, said he thought it was “a bit early” for Scott to run.

“I think [Trump] needs one more term. Sen. Scott would be a great vice president. Ron DeSantis would be,” Craggs added, referring to the Florida governor. But he said Scott “would be unifying. Not because he’s Black, but because he’s right and he has an inspiring message.” 

Other senators who had been considered potential presidential candidates, such as Missouri’s Josh Hawley, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Florida’s Rick Scott, appear to be running for reelection. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, whose term runs through 2027, also reportedly passed on a run. In recent election cycles, several senators from each party have entered the race. 

But potential 2024 candidates would face Trump, who still enjoys broad popularity among voters, and likely DeSantis. A Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday found that when Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters were read a list of 14 potential candidates, Trump led with 42 percent followed by DeSantis with 36 percent. 

Haley was next with 5 percent, followed by former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with 5 percent. Unlike six of the candidates who registered almost no support, Scott got 1 percent, behind the 2 percent received by Cruz and former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. The survey of 529 Republicans and Republican-leaning voters was taken Feb. 9 to 14 and had a margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Unlike other potential contenders, Scott has not made cultural issues a main focus. In the Senate, he has prioritized economic issues. His “opportunity zones” legislation, which was included in Republicans’ 2017 tax overhaul, provides tax breaks for investments by businesses in designated parts of low-income communities. 

He’s been the lead Republican negotiator in efforts to overhaul criminal justice, and Trump during the 2020 campaign touted a 2018 law he signed that Scott and Democratic  New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker crafted. The two have been less successful in recent months trying to craft a follow-up measure. 

“As I continue to work on police reform, I’ll look for ways to make sure that there’s better training, better resources and only the best wear the badge,” Scott said Thursday. 

Scott is set to travel next week to Iowa — which is still set to lead off Republicans’ presidential nominating contests of 2024, although Democrats have sought to move it later in their schedule. The visit is part of a “Faith in America Tour,” which “will feature important conversations about faith in America today, advancing opportunity for all Americans, and furthering the goal of giving every child access to school choice and a world-class education.”

People with experience running campaigns in different states, including former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also have taken leadership roles at a super PAC that supports Scott’s political efforts.

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