116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / Campaigns & Elections
Tim Scott offers optimistic message. But Iowa GOP voters want ‘a brawler’
Scott launches 2024 GOP presidential bid, plans Wednesday trip to Iowa
In Donald Trump, many Iowa GOP voters say they like the message but not necessarily the messenger.
With Republican South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers say they like both the message as well as the messenger.
But when it comes to putting their support behind someone to be the party’s nominee to take on Democratic President Joe Biden in 2024, party insiders say they want a brawler.
“I am in the mood for that — a brawler,” said Dallas County GOP Chair Kelley Koch.
Scott formally launched his presidential campaign Monday, offering an optimistic and compassionate message he’s hoping will serve as a welcome contrast to the divisive language, combative tone and grievance-based politics that has shaped the early GOP primary field to date. He travels Wednesday to Sioux City, where he is scheduled to tour a Christian school and hold an evening town hall.
The 57-year-old is betting that emphasizing his faith, his personal story and a more optimistic message, while hauling in significant campaign cash, will be enough to carry him to the Republican nomination.
But despite a soft launch last month with the announcement of an exploratory committee, he’s polling in the single digits, according to RealClearPolitics polling average — well behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to enter the race this week.
Scott has cast his candidacy and rise from generational poverty to arguably the most powerful Black conservative in the country as evidence that America is “the land of opportunity, and not a land of oppression.” He frequently mentions his family made it “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime” — a reference to his grandfather, who was born in 1921 and forced to leave school in third grade to pick cotton in the Deep South, and lived on to see his grandson elected to Congress.
“He had faith in God, faith in himself and faith in what America would be,” Scott said in his hometown of North Charleston. “He looked beyond the pain of his present and saw the promise of the future. This Black man who struggled through the Jim Crow South believed then what some doubt now: In the goodness of America.”
Scott’s faith and hardscrabble roots — a Black man raised by a single mother who worked 16-hour days as a nurse’s assistant — have become a bedrock of his political identity and a focus of his campaign.
Scott, the only Black Republican senator and the first Black Republican elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction, rejects the notion that the country is inherently racist. He has routinely repudiated the teaching of critical race theory — the besieged academic framework that says racism is systemic.
He encouraged Americans to “take responsibility for yourself” and reject “today’s cultural victimhood.” He said Republicans have to decide between “grievance or greatness.”
It’s a stark difference in tone from Trump, who continues to lead in national polls and whose vows of retribution against his opponents have come to dominate the GOP.
While Scott’s tone and temperament alone may be enough to sway some voters, it remains to be seen whether his happy-warrior message and Reaganesque optimism can sway a significant number of Iowa Republicans.
Dallas County’s Koch introduced Scott at a town hall with voters in Waukee two weeks ago. Koch has heard him speak three times before. He’s been a regular presence in the state during the 2022 campaign cycle, helping support and raise money for Iowa Republican candidates.
She said Scott “has a lane” appealing to a faith-based conservative groups in Iowa.
Scott’s campaign is set to heavily court Iowa’s influential evangelical voters and lean into his conservative Christian identity. Scott has said he would sign “the most conservative, pro-life legislation” that could pass Congress.
His personal story, conservative values and message of “personal responsibility” resonate well with Iowa GOP voters, Koch said.
Scott also served as the lead author of 2017 Republican tax cuts and created Opportunity Zones, which give businesses tax breaks for investing in economically-distressed areas like the one in which he grew up.
“He’s an eloquent speaker with compassion and experiences” that a lot of the other candidates don’t have, Koch said.
But she wants a “brawler” and someone with “solutions and a sense of urgency” in how to address border security, the fentanyl crisis, inflation, the rising threat of China, the war in Ukraine, Department of Justice “corruption” and “election integrity.”
Dallas County — which covers suburban areas, small towns and farmland outside Des Moines — is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country and microcosm of the state. “We’re the bellwether,” Koch said. “If you do well in my county, it’s a good indicator you will do well in the country.”
Alan Ostergren, founder and lawyer at The Kirkwood Institute, a self-described “conservative public-interest law firm,” said while Scott is a leading voice in the Senate, it’s hard to see a path forward for him in the Iowa caucuses.
“My sense is Republican voters are hungry for a strong executive who can take on remedying what Joe Biden has done over the last four years,” said Ostergren, who made a name for himself defending Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks during her 2020 recount battle, and is seen as a valuable GOP campaign adviser.
“I’m a Tim Scott fan,” Ostergren said. “We’re blessed by having amazing people like Tim Scott, who are leaders in the Senate on a number of issues, but for Republican caucus attendees, they’re looking who is going to coalesce this party into a winning campaign. I just don’t see how they land on Tim Scott, as remarkable of a person as he is.”
While Scott is a “gifted communicator that speaks from the heart,” Ostergren said Iowa caucusgoers “take a cold, hard look at who will unite this party and win, and has a record of beating the left on issues” --- and the “scalps to go with it.”
Scott, though, is better positioned than most to make his own case to voters.
He enters the 2024 race with $22 million cash on hand — the most of any presidential candidate in U.S. history. And his campaign has made an initial $5.5 million ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Comments: (319) 398-8499; firstname.lastname@example.org