By Gram Slattery
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, formally kicked off his 2024 presidential campaign on Monday, betting his upbeat message will sell in a party in which many voters are still firmly behind former President Donald Trump.
In a speech to supporters in his hometown of North Charleston, South Carolina, Scott, 57, leaned heavily into his personal experience as the impoverished child of a single mother as proof that America remains a nation of opportunity.
He emphasized the progress the United States has made on racial issues in recent decades, proclaiming - as he often does - that the U.S. is not a racist country. He attacked Democrats, meanwhile, for attempting to stoke racial division for partisan gain.
"Joe Biden and the radical left are attacking every single rung of the ladder that helped me climb," he said. "And that's why I am announcing today that I am running for president of the United States of America."
With only 1% of support among registered Republicans, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling, Scott faces an uphill battle in his bid to win the Republican nomination to take on Democratic President Joe Biden next year.
Some 49% of Republicans plan to vote for Trump, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Trump's closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, will jump into the race in the coming days, according to sources with knowledge of his plans.
But Scott is a favorite among donors and fellow lawmakers. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, introduced Scott on Monday, while Oracle (NYSE: ORCL ) co-founder Larry Ellison, a major backer, also attended. Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA ) CEO Elon Musk, meanwhile, has twice retweeted material from Scott's campaign Twitter account in recent days.
Scott is also popular in South Carolina, which plays a key role in the Republican race. The Deep South state is the third in the nation to hold a Republican nominating contest in the state-by-state battle to determine a presidential nominee.
In order to win the state, he will need to face off directly with Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor who threw her hat into the ring in February, and who is also broadly popular with the state's voters.
The senator stands out partly due to his relentless optimism and his calls for unity, which were on full display during his speech. He often points to his own impoverished upbringing as proof that the U.S. remains a land of opportunity.
"America is the city on the hill. We are the beacon in the midst of darkness," he said.
Still, it remains to be seen whether a significant number of Republicans find his message appealing.
Many Republicans appear hungry for a bruising fight with Democrats this election. That is particularly true after New York City prosecutors indicted Trump in March on charges he falsified documents to cover up hush money paid to a porn star. Most Republicans consider those charges politically motivated.
Scott did not shy away entirely from confrontational rhetoric, saying that under Biden, America was a "nation in decline."
He notably did not mention Trump, but said the Republican nominee would need to be electable.
"We need a president that persuades not just our friends and our base," Scott said.
Trump, meanwhile, used the launch to take a swipe at DeSantis, his main rival.
"Good luck to Senator Tim Scott in entering the Republican Presidential Primary Race," Trump wrote on his Truth Social social media platform. "It is rapidly loading up with lots of people, and Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable."
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