The shakeup may come too late to revitalize Scott’s faltering campaign.
After months of staying out of the conversation, the South Carolina senator is now trailing below 2 percent in national polls. On Saturday, Scott’s local newspaper asked that the Republican camp unite not around Scott, but around his South Carolina rival, Nikki Haley, to directly confront Donald Trump. Even some prominent Scott supporters are beginning to acknowledge that Scott’s presidential campaign has been a disappointment and that his path forward appears bleak.
“In talking to people here at home, what they’ve told me is that it’s unfortunate that the Tim they know in South Carolina is not the Tim that people may be perceiving in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states,” Mark said Sanford. the former Republican South Carolina governor and U.S. representative who attended Scott’s campaign launch in May.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) praised his colleague as a “spokesman” for “Reagan’s optimistic and hopeful message,” but admitted that he did not seem to convince the party’s voters.
“I’m disappointed because he’s a fantastic guy and he has a great message,” he said.
Asked if he hoped Scott could stay in the race until Iowa, Cornyn demurred: “At some point, there’s going to have to be a consolidation when the outcome is inevitable.”
It wasn’t long ago that expectations for Scott were through the roof. Senator from South Dakota. John Thunethe second Republican in the Senate, delivered the opening prayer at Scott’s campaign launch. Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle, was in the crowd, one of many donors intrigued by the Senate’s prodigious fundraising. His allies maintained that big money was being lined up for Scott ahead of the fall campaign. And even just two months ago, Scott seemed to be in a much better position than he is now. He had reached double digits in the polls in Iowa, the first caucus state, trailing only a weakened Ron DeSantis in the race to become the leading alternative to Donald Trump.
But then came the first debate, a highly anticipated event in which Scott spoke less than most of the other candidates and seemed to disappear for long periods. Multiple Scott allies point to that moment — both the senator’s apparent unpreparedness for the dynamics of the debate stage and his refusal to adopt an aggressive earned media strategy ahead of time — as a significant turning point. Since then, Scott has trended downward in Iowa, New Hampshire and in national polls. In an ominous sign for the campaign, his super PAC announced this week that he was cancel millions of dollars in fall advertising.
Scott has not yet qualified for the third Republican debate, although he appears to be on track to do so. A person with knowledge of Scott’s campaign operations told POLITICO that the Republican National Committee has confirmed to the campaign that a little noticed survey conducted by YouGov and The Liberal Patriot satisfies the committee’s voting requirements for the debate.
An RNC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Scott still must cross the 70,000 donor threshold set by the committee before the Nov. 6 deadline.
“Tim Scott will be on the debate stage in Miami,” said campaign spokesman Nathan Brand. “The campaign is on track to meet donor requirements.”
But getting on the debate stage is one thing. Nothing Scott has done in the first two debates seems to have helped his position. Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), who endorsed Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign but has remained complimentary of his home-state colleague’s presidential bid, said Scott has “a good message.” But he added: “That must be translated into support. “Trump drowns everyone.”
That lack of oxygen in the primaries has been a major problem for all of Trump’s rivals. But Scott’s campaign appeared to do less than others to force him into the conversation. At one point, from mid-July to early August, Scott went three weeks without a single hit on national television, while making a few appearances on local radio, television, and podcasts. After an early June interview on “The View,” and with DeSantis and Haley being hired this summer at networks like CNN and NBC, Scott did not appear on any mainstream news programs until mid-September, when he left for the morning affairs. show “Squawk Box” on CNBC.
The senator’s team “fundamentally miscalculated what it means to run for president and generate news coverage,” said one influential Scott supporter, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the race.
Scott also does not speak to reporters in the halls of the Capitol. Neither does he aggressively took advantage of his role in the Senate to create the kind of interesting moments that some previous senators running for the presidency have.
Other close observers of Scott’s campaign have noted his high spending rate ($12.3 million burned, compared to $4.6 million raised in the third quarter), a very different strategy from the efficient operation of Haley, although Scott has more cash on hand for the primary than she or DeSantis. Rivals such as Haley, DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy refused to spend campaign dollars on television advertising, allowing their allied super PACs to manage airtime. While Scott’s campaign ran a more TV-friendly candidate rate than his opponents’ super PACs (and launched with more cash on hand), his campaign had already spent nearly $9 million on TV this year through the end of the third fundraising quarter.
Scott and his campaign move forward. Amid his recent flurry of media visits, the senator this weekend launched a seven-stop bus tour of Iowa and announced that he will give a speech Monday at a predominantly African-American church on Chicago’s South Side. At a cattle call in Iowa City on Friday night, before leaving with a plate of chicken lips on a stick, Scott mingled with a crowd of Republicans and was the only one who met with reporters.
Meanwhile, his aligned super PAC has pledged to boost Scott’s current grassroots efforts in the wake of his recent ad cancellations.
But it’s unclear how much of the money cut from TV advertising will go toward that outreach. This week, TIM PAC canceled approximately $15 million in ads, most of which were television bookings between Oct. 17 and Dec. 27 in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A person familiar with the super PAC’s strategy confirmed that the group intends to play a substantial role in organizing future Scott field events, similar to the pro-Ron DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC, but declined to comment. provide details.
In a statement to POLITICO, Gardner, who co-chairs the super PAC, reiterated the message he had reportedly conveyed to Scott and others in private conversations: He needs to be out there more.
“The more voters listen to Tim, the more likely they are to become reliable supporters,” Gardner said. “He is the most favorably viewed candidate in this race because people want to feel good about America again and they believe Tim can make that change.”
Andy Sabin, a Republican donor who is backing Scott in the primary, said he is baffled by how the affable Republican rising star is still lagging behind others. Scott, while not as well-known as some of his rivals, has long enjoyed the highest net favorability ratings among Republican primaries.
“When I see him, talk to him, he’s great,” Sabin said. “I do not know what is the problem.
“Let’s see how he does in the next debate, see if he’s gaining momentum.”
It’s still possible (if he qualifies for the debate, if his polls improve, if his fundraising returns) that Scott could find traction. Graham, who said he spoke with Scott last week, suggested that Scott could finish third or fourth in Iowa and still be viable in the race, and that “his campaign is useful to the Republican Party.”
“There are still a lot of undecided people,” Graham said. “He could break through.”
Sen. Mike Rondas (R.S.D.), one of two senators, along with Thune, who endorsed Scott’s presidential bid, said that “sometimes you have to move on and wait until the opportunity comes.”
However, he said, looking at the primary polls it is clear that “at this point, people are not yet ready to act.”
Meridith McGraw and Steven Shepard contributed to this report.