Sen. Tim Scott is taking his big White House-backed economic initiative to the early presidential states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The South Carolina Republican is not actively seeking the presidency — “I’m not even running for president of my home owners’ association,” he said, a quip he makes every time somebody asks him about his national ambitions.
But “nobody comes to Iowa by mistake,” said Craig Robinson, who runs the influential Iowa Republican news site in the state that has long been the first to hold a presidential caucus every four years.
“You start showing up, we’re going to start putting you on our list of potential presidential candidates, whether you like it or not,” he added.
Tom Rath, a veteran GOP strategist, said the same was true for his state of New Hampshire, traditionally the site of the nation’s first presidential primary.
“It’s not an accidental visit,” Rath said.
Ultimately, Scott’s trips to the states that have for decades made or broken White House candidates inevitably stir speculation, especially given the lawmaker’s rising star status.
He automatically generates interest as the Senate’s only black Republican and one of a handful of black elected officials in a party that is still overwhelmingly white.
He has a compelling personal story — he grew up in poverty in a single-parent household in North Charleston — and has emerged as a voice of conscience among congressional Republicans on issues of race.
In the summer of 2016, he delivered a series of Senate floor speeches about his experiences with racial profiling. A year later, he challenged President Donald Trump to rethink his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last week, he helped block a judicial nominee who could not adequately explain why he’d written articles two decades earlier mocking multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity.
Trump is expected to run for re-election in 2020, so any Scott White House ambitions are likely in elections beyond that.
During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, political observers wondered if Scott, 52, would be picked as someone’s running mate. He briefly considered running for governor of South Carolina in 2018. Looking ahead, Scott gets mentioned as someone who could either run for president or be chosen as a vice presidential nominee.
Scott told McClatchy not to read anything into his visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. He said he was simply making the rounds to tout his “Opportunity Zones” program, which would offer certain tax breaks to businesses that make long-term investments in distressed communities. The initiative was included in the Republican tax bill last year and now Scott is traveling the country to promote it.
He explained he was going to places where he’d been invited. When he visited the headquarters of a direct mail marketing company in Manchester, New Hampshire in June, he said he was following up on conversations he’d had with GOP Gov. Chris Sununu. He was in Iowa on Friday thanks to an invitation from the state’s junior senator, Joni Ernst, herself considered a Republican rising star.
Scott headlined Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” fundraising event last year. On Friday, he and Ernst were scheduled to visit a youth advocacy center in Des Moines and a mixed-income apartment complex for artists in West Des Moines — two stops on Scott’s national “Opportunity Tour.”
But Scott was also slated to deliver a speech at the Iowa Republican Party’s annual dinner on Friday evening. Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told McClatchy it was a chance for Scott to introduce himself to the party faithful, who already see the South Carolinian as a kindred spirit of Ernst.
“We like a streak of independence in our candidates out here,” Kaufmann said. “We like a team player but at the same time we like a person that will stand firm in a particular belief, especially if it’s for their state. If (Iowans) see that in (Scott) in his speech, they are going to be following him more, and I fully appreciate that in the next decade, he will probably feel his rising star status here.”
Rath said New Hampshire Republicans were also inclined to be drawn to a figure such as Scott, someone who “fits in philosophically where the bulk of the state is, which is a little bit right of center but not too far right of center. Pragmatic conservatism, good on human rights and civil rights.”
Visiting Iowa and New Hampshire could be a way for Scott to generate national buzz not just for himself but for his cause.
In April, Scott took his “Opportunity Tour” to Miami. In May, he went to Boston. Scott said in the months ahead he plans to visit Colorado, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and California. But few have paid, or will pay, as close attention to his travels to these states as to his trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, even though they all are ostensibly for the same purpose of touting Opportunity Zones.
“I refreshed myself with Opportunity Zones, and I chuckled,” Robinson added. “Iowa and New Hampshire, and states like that, are opportunity zones for politicians.”