NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.—South Carolina senator Tim Scott kicked off his presidential campaign inside a packed gym at his alma mater Monday, painting himself as a traditional conservative with hope for the future and a clear alternative for Republican voters eager to move past former president Donald Trump.
"I will rebuild and restore every rung of the ladder that helped me climb, because I want my American story to pale in comparison to yours," Scott, 57, told supporters at Charleston Southern University. Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, has held the seat since 2013 and was reelected last year by more than 25 points.
Scott joins an increasingly crowded Republican field that includes Trump and fellow South Carolinian, Nikki Haley. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also expected to make his run official this week. All three hopefuls lag behind Trump in the polls. A Harvard University poll conducted last week shows Scott polling at just 1 percent, Haley at 4, and DeSantis at 16. Trump, meanwhile, is polling at 58 percent.
But the numbers aren't enough to deter Scott, who says he’s not running with the aim of becoming another candidate's vice president. Scott argues that he offers voters a unique combination of optimism and winning conservative policies—an alternative to the pessimism and culture war politics that dominate much of the GOP primary field. Supporters told the Washington Free Beacon that they are drawn to Scott's ability to work with Trump without trading in the former president's particular political style.
"I like his values. He’s a good, godly man," said Karen Neal, who attended Scott's Charleston rally. "I like Donald Trump’s policies, but as a man, I’m not so crazy about him."
Jered Wilkerson, a commercial real estate broker, said he appreciates that Scott "reached across the aisle" to work with Democrats on the Opportunity Zones initiative, which "brought jobs back into the communities."
Trump himself touted his work with Scott Monday in a statement wishing his primary rival well.
"Good luck to Senator Tim Scott in entering the Republican Presidential Primary Race," Trump wrote on Truth Social. "I got Opportunity Zones done with Tim, a big deal that has been highly successful. Good luck Tim!"
But for all his willingness to compromise, Scott is no stranger to political fights. He spearheaded Republican police reform efforts following the death of George Floyd in 2020—a position that he says earned him scorn from across the aisle.
"When I pushed back on President Biden, they even called me the N-word," Scott said Monday, adding that Democrats hate that he’s a black conservative. According to Scott, the fact that he embodies the American dream he fights to defend is precisely why he is the candidate "the far left fears the most."
Scott garnered national attention when he gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s April 2021 address to Congress, a rebuttal that saw his fundraising totals go through the roof.
The money has kept on flowing for Scott, an accomplished fundraiser who enters the race with around $22 million in his war chest. His campaign launched a $6 million ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, which will run through the summer. It’s the largest single ad buy of the cycle so far.
Scott enjoys high popularity among Republicans who have heard of him, including voters in his home state—and crucial primary state—of South Carolina. An April poll found 47 percent of voters in the state hold a positive view and only 25 percent a negative one.
Attendees of Scott's rally are convinced he has a chance to emerge as a competitor. John Towle, a retired vice president of a manufacturing company, said Scott has "a real good chance" because of his "moral compass."
Several attendees appreciate Scott’s positive outlook, which contrasts to the rhetoric from other candidates. "I think his humbleness and his way of speaking is beautiful," said Naomi Smith. "And you know that he's a man of his word."
"He’s one of the few Republican candidates that is speaking a more cohesive message than some of the more extreme candidates," said Dwayne Green. "He’s a lot more of a uniter."
Stephen Rubin, who owned a medical equipment business for years, said Scott’s background will stand out against his rivals. "He has lived the American dream," he said. "He’s gone from a family with cotton and wound up with a family in Washington, can’t be any better than that."
His approval extends to unexpected sources. Elon Musk retweeted Scott’s Monday livestream and shared a campaign video last week, calling it "great." Scott’s campaign replied with an invitation to Monday’s event, but the billionaire Twitter CEO was a no show.