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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., during the first Republican Presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, on Aug. 23, 2023.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., during the first Republican Presidential primary debate in Milwaukee last month. Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images

Scott presidential campaign lobbying GOP to prioritize early state polling for debates

The South Carolina senator has performed better in polls from states like Iowa than he has in recent national polling.

By and

South Carolina GOP Senator Tim Scott’s campaign is lobbying the Republican National Committee to more heavily weight state polling — specifically from Iowa — in their debate qualification and podium-placement thresholds, according to letters obtained by NBC News.

“Relying on national polling results for the podium placement simply would not represent where the candidates actually stand in relation to where we are in the process with the voters,” campaign manager Jen DeCasper writes to the RNC, adding that “polling results from lowa should be the primary consideration for podium placement at the September debate.”

Scott regularly performs better in polling from Iowa and South Carolina than he does in national polling. For example, his 9% showing in The Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll in August was good for third place, while Scott regularly polls in the low-to-mid single-digits in national polling.

So the proposed change would put Scott closer to the center of the stage at this month's debate in California, an important optic.

The seven participants in the RNC’s first debate stood on the debate stage in August with the highest-polling candidates at the center. That put Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence at the center of the stage, with Scott among the furthest out.

The Scott campaign is also separately pushing for greater weighting of early-state polling as a qualifying tool for the third debate.

So far, the party has relied on candidates meeting its polling threshold either by polling high enough in multiple national polls, or a mix of both national and early state polling.

But in another letter to the RNC, DeCasper suggests candidates should be able to qualify solely with a strong performance in early state polling (with no regard to their standing in national poll). She also proposes that a candidate should have to attend at least one state party event in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to make the stage, and have a minimum number of unique donors from those states.

When asked to respond to the Scott camp's suggestions, RNC Deputy Communications Director Emma Vaughn told NBC News in a statement: "The debate committee has had a very thoughtful approach to the entire process, and we continue to welcome input from all candidates, partners and stakeholders. We look forward to hosting another fair and transparent debate stage in Simi Valley.”