U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who came close to winning second in the Iowa caucus, won a coveted endorsement Tuesday in South Carolina from U.S Sen. Tim Scott.
“Marco Rubio understands, that here in America, it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you’re going,” the North Charleston Republican said in a video announcing the endorsement. “We have shot in 2016 to beat Hillary Clinton. And that shot is Marco Rubio.”
Scott was expected to back Rubio, the top establishment GOP candidate, after U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, endorsed the senator. Gowdy and Scott are close friends. Both were elected to Congress in 2010.
Rubio is third in S.C. polls behind New York billionaire developer Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The U.S. senator from Florida finished third in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, just 1 percentage point behind Trump, who had led Iowa polls. Cruz pulled a surprise victory.
After the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, Scott could help Rubio in South Carolina. The only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate is one of the Palmetto State’s most popular politicians in polls.
South Carolina, which holds the South’s first presidential primary on Feb. 20, has a history of backing the establishment candidate considered most electable in the general election. He is hoping to emerge as the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz candidate in the crowded GOP field.
South Carolina’s primary has been targeted by Rubio’s camp since his campaign and a pro-Rubio political-action committee are run by veteran Palmetto State political operatives.
One coveted endorsement remains in South Carolina.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has become S.C. most popular politician after her handling of the Charleston church shooting, might wait until after the New Hampshire primary to back a presidential candidate.
Though as a likely who vice presidential choice, she could not endorse a 2016 hopeful at all.
Rubio would be Haley’s likely pick, especially after she asked people to avoid the angriest voices in her nationally televised State of the Union response last month.
The governor has been critical of what she called Trump’s combative campaigning. She is unlikely to back Cruz, another combative candidate who led to a 16-day government shutdown in 2013.
Haley backed Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. The former Massachusetts governor won the GOP nomination, but he lost the S.C. primary to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Scott is the fourth S.C. Republican statewide politician to endorse a 2016 hopeful:
▪ U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, threw his support to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush after dropping out of the presidential race in December. Many of Graham’s top financial backers, including former S.C. House Speaker David Wilkins and billionaire businesswoman Anita Zucker, also went over to Bush.
▪ S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, who backed Gingrich in 2012, also endorsed Bush.
▪ Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster backed GOP frontrunner Donald Trump last week. McMaster’s support for the New York billionaire developer was a surprising move for a politician entrenched in the state’s GOP establishment as a former state party chairman.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Laurens Republican who was first elected in the Tea Party surge of 2010, will endorse Cruz in Greenville on Tuesday.