March 3, 2024
CENTRAL CITY, Iowa — “Tim Scott for president!” shouted a woman in the audience, among hundreds of grassroots conservatives who gathered here to see the Republican senator from South Carolina up close. “Of my homeowners' association — yes!” the potential 2024 contender replied.

CENTRAL CITY, Iowa — “Tim Scott for president!” shouted a woman in the audience, among hundreds of grassroots conservatives who gathered here to see the Republican senator from South Carolina up close. “Of my homeowners’ association — yes!” the potential 2024 contender replied.

That brief interlude, which occurred toward the conclusion of a rousing 20-minute address that Scott, 56, delivered as the headliner for Rep. Ashley Hinson’s (R-IA) “BBQ Bash,” characterized neatly his late August swing through eastern Iowa, near Cedar Rapids, to stump for the state’s Republican slate.

The 2024 overtones are obvious, especially with advertisements promoting Hinson and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) paid for by Scott’s super PAC (which also feature the senator) running on local television. Every four years, the Iowa caucuses herald the GOP presidential primary. Yet Scott, more than most prominent Republicans barnstorming the state since former President Donald Trump exited the White House, is laboring to downplay his stepped-up presence in Iowa as coincidental.

Scott has close friends on the ballot here, he says, and is just doing his part to help Republicans win congressional majorities in midterm elections. Besides, the senator has his own race to attend to; he’s up for reelection in South Carolina.

But pressed during a brief interview after finishing his speech, participating in a joint news conference with Hinson, and working the crowd by shaking hands, signing autographs, and taking selfies, Scott acknowledged what is plain to see by his decision to invest so much energy in the Hawkeye State.

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“I can say, in my own heart, the primary objective is to help Ashley Hinson,” the senator told the Washington Examiner, adding he was also there to boost Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Gov. Kim Reynolds. However, he also said: “I recognize that it does raise questions — I’m not foolish enough to say that it does not. But I think that as long as I do the primary objective, the rest takes care of itself.”

For some in the audience, among them likely future caucusgoers, “the rest” can’t come soon enough, particularly if Trump does not try to get his old job back. “Very impressive person, commonsense person, just gives me hope,” Bart Gingrich, 65, said of Scott after his remarks. “He is someone that speaks the common man’s language.”

With Trump poised to mount a third presidential campaign, speculation about the Republican Party’s 2024 field merits an asterisk. If Trump runs, can anybody else win? Will anybody else run? Will anybody else run who is viable in the primary? The answer to all three questions might be “yes,” although the former president would begin as the heaviest of favorites. But in the event of a field absent Trump, the contest is immediately more expansive and unpredictable.

In a pure open-seat race like that, Scott warrants watching.

The senator doesn’t so much deliver a stump speech as he does a Sunday church sermon, eschewing the podium for a wireless microphone and wandering the crowd as he speaks, extemporaneously, like he’s running a religious tent revival. In a state where Republicans lean conservative (socially and otherwise) and where voters of faith have an outsize influence in the quadrennial presidential caucuses, Scott’s style is endearing and could win him votes.

“It is Sunday, and my momma wanted a preacher, so y’all — you’re the congregation today,” Scott said at the outset of his remarks to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 grassroots Republicans packed into an auditorium at the Linn County Fairgrounds to support Hinson’s reelection and size up the latest 2024 contender to come through town.

Trump is the big dog — that much was clear from those in the audience wearing T-shirts and baseball caps with his name and slogans. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was another top choice to run for president in 2024. For some, that was true regardless of what Trump decides to do. And some emphasized that they’d prefer Scott to gain more experience before running for president.

But the senator held the crowd at rapt attention with his mix of political quips, sharp jabs at Democrats, folksy recollections about his childhood and family, and appeals to American exceptionalism. Missing, noticeably, was the litany of social grievances that have lately become a staple of some Republican campaign speeches, gratuitous attacks on the media, and any focus on any election other than the one upcoming.

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And yet the crowd stayed put until the very end. Gary Dunn, 78, and his wife Dorothy, 73, both want to see more. “We like him,” she said.

Scott, favored to win reelection easily in South Carolina this fall, has said his next Senate term will be his last. The Republican was first elected to Congress in 2010 in the Charleston-area 1st Congressional District. Two years later, he was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Nikki Haley (also a potential 2024 contender), won a special election to continue serving in 2014, and began his first full term in 2016.

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