Sen. Tim Scott, who grew up in working-class poverty to become South Carolina's first Black senator, and now the Senate's lone Black Republican, declared his candidacy for president on Monday, coming into the 2024 race with more cash on hand than all of his competitors -- and a story that he says embodies the American dream.
The 57-year-old senator held the official announcement event inside the Buccaneer Fieldhouse on Monday morning at his alma mater, Charleston Southern University, speaking enthusiastically in front of a backdrop of supporters, his name and campaign slogan, "Faith in America."
"We live in the land where it is possible for a kid raised in poverty by a single mother in a small apartment to one day serve in the People's House and maybe even the White House," Scott said, after speaking several minutes off the cuff.
"Joe Biden and the radical left are attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb," he continued. "And that is why I'm announcing today that I am running for president of the United States of America!"
"When I cut your taxes, they called me a prop. When I re-funded the police, they called me a token. When I pushed back on President Biden, they even called me the N-word," he said. "I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lies!"
Scott on Friday filed official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to enter the race, setting into motion a $6 million ad-buy in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states of the Republican nominating contest, which will air starting Wednesday and run through the first GOP primary debate in late August.
Choosing to take on the current president as opposed to any primary opponents, Scott offered an outlook more positive than others to assert "America is not a nation in decline," but under President Joe Biden, he says, it has become "a nation in retreat."
"America is the city on the hill," Scott said in closing, walking off the stage to join standing supporters, as he tends to do on the stump. "I'm living proof that God and a good family and the United States of America can do all things if we believe. Will you believe it with me?"
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, endorsed Scott and delivered the opening prayer at his announcement in North Charleston, describing him as a candidate who offers "boundless hope and optimism for this country."
"Tim Scott is the real deal. And he will make a great president of the United States," Thune said. "I think our country is ready to be inspired again."
Scott will travel to Iowa and Hampshire later this week, adding to a handful of visits he's already made this year. His official campaign committee, Tim Scott for America, will be based in the Palmetto State, where he will return for Memorial Day weekend.
While he's polling in the low single digits, major donors, including Oracle founder Larry Ellison, are banking on the senator's optimistic disposition breaking through -- and allowing him to overtake former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both ahead of him in voter surveys.
Scott's campaign has touted his joining the race with $22 million in campaign cash, which it says is the most of any presidential candidate in American history.
The official campaign launch follows a season of courting voters including his "Faith in America" town hall series after forming a presidential exploratory committee, a step which allows for candidates to start raising money. Staffers say his campaign for president really came to light after he won 63% of the vote in his reelection to the Senate in November, despite an increasingly polarizing climate.
The junior senator rolled out his exploratory committee on April 12, which he noted marked the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. His announcement video was filmed at Fort Sumter, where he once again called for Americans to overcome deep political divisions.
A source close to Scott said he had not spoken to Trump ahead of his announcement. The two share a cordial relationship, but Scott sparingly condemned Trump during his presidency for racially-charged comments, such as after Trump expressed support for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Scott responded, "Racism is real. It is alive."
Scott has declined to say whether he would support Trump if Trump were to win the GOP nomination, while Trump's team has painted the primary as a race for second place.
"Tim Scott's entrance, and aggressive media purchase, doesn't only kneecap DeSantis, but Scott sees the same thing as Youngkin, Sununu, Burgum, Christie and others: the path to 2nd place is wide open," said Taylor Budowich, CEO of the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again Inc. PAC. "They smell Ron DeSantis' blood in the water and no longer see him as an obstacle."
Scott's personal story
Not only is Scott coming into the race with a heft of cash on hand, but his campaign also says he brings a different personal story to the race.
Scott credits his mother who he says worked 16-hour days as a nursing assistant to support him, and a Chick-fil-A store operator, who helped Scott get his first job at a movie theater in his teens, with enabling him to pave a path from working-class poverty to the U.S. Senate.
"Those 16-hour days put food on our table. And kept our lights on. They empowered her to move her boys out of a place filled with anger into a home full of love," Scott said Monday, after bringing her on stage to thank her for her support.
He also cites his experience at South Carolina's Palmetto Boys State program as influential in his decision to pursue public service. After working in insurance and financial services post-college, Scott ran for Charleston County Council and the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Scott was first appointed to the Senate in 2013, plucked from the U.S. House of Representatives by then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley -- who he'll now face in the primary. This after another senator, Jim DeMint, resigned to lead the Heritage Foundation. Scott retained his seat in a 2014 special election and glided to victory again in 2016 and 2022, with more than 60% of the vote in both cycles.
Long seen as a rising star in the GOP, Scott delivered the Republican Party's rebuttal to President Joe Biden's inaugural joint address to Congress in 2021.
Scott's signature legislation creating "opportunity zones" was passed as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under Trump. He was tapped in 2020 by Republican leaders to negotiate on police-reforms before those bipartisan talks collapsed.
He's starting off his campaign with multiple colleagues' endorsements, with South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds joining Thune. Fellow South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is among 11 Senate Republicans already endorsing Trump, although back in 2016 he infamously said, "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it."
Scott joins a primary field that includes Haley, Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Others are expected to officially enter in the coming days, including DeSantis and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
Scott closed his speech with several, "Let's go!" call-and-response chants with supporters like Pam Hourihan, 47, who was wearing green scrubs, having used her lunch break as a pharmacist to walk 10 minutes to the venue. She said she's known Scott personally through church, calling him a "great Christian."
"He's a good person. He's been a good person forever. This isn't anything new. He's always been this way," she told ABC News.
P.J. Kuyper, 55, who voted for Trump in 2020, said Scott "has a message that is exactly what America needs to hear" and that he would "absolutely not" vote for Trump again if he were to win the nomination.
"I think his faith in America, the goodness of it, and the opportunities are way more powerful than any message of grievance," Kuyper said.