NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Tim Scott, the lone Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, announced here in his hometown Monday that he is running for president.
"Joe Biden and the radical left are attacking every rung of the ladder that helped me climb," Scott said at his alma mater Charleston Southern University. "And that is why I am announcing today that I am running for president of the United States of America."
Speaking before a crowd his campaign estimated to be nearly 2,000 attendees, Scott described the campaign as a time to choose between “victimhood or victory” and “grievance or greatness.” He portrayed himself as the candidate "the far-left fears most."
“I disrupt their narrative,” he said. “I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lies!”
Scott's bid has been months in the works as he teased his announcement in recent weeks, first announcing an exploratory committee in April and then officially filing the paperwork Friday to run. He joins a rapidly expanding field of contenders looking to knock off former President Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner who holds a commanding lead in GOP primary polls.
Scott was first appointed to the Senate from South Carolina in 2012, by then-Gov. Nikki Haley — now a presidential rival — to replace retiring Sen. Jim DeMint. Scott later won the election to fill the rest of his term in 2014 and went on to win full terms in 2016 and again last year. Scott's political career began in the Charleston County Council in the mid-1990s before serving in the state House and the U.S. House.
With Scott and Haley, there are now two high-profile South Carolina politicians in the GOP race. After her governorship, Haley served in the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. South Carolina's early primary has long been considered one of the most important on the presidential nominating calendar.
In his Monday address, Scott pledged to bolster the U.S. military, complete a wall along the southern border, "freeze" drug cartel assets and "let the world’s greatest military fight these terrorists — because that’s exactly what they are."
He also talked up his goals for boosting domestic manufacturing, increasing employment and revamping education.
“I will be the president who ramps up research and development, reclaims supply chains, and re-energizes our manufacturing base with Opportunity Zones 2.0 and an entire Made In America agenda,” Scott said.
During a campaign call with reporters last week, senior Scott staffers detailed their theory of the case for why their candidate can win, promoting him as uniquely qualified for the job and as a messenger who can win over independents and Democrats while not straying from conservative policy positions. Scott's fundraising ability will also give him an edge, these officials said.
Scott won't be straying from hot-button cultural issues during the primary but will seek to run a more positive campaign that calls out grievances and victimhood being promoted in both parties, senior campaign officials said.
While voters shouldn't expect Scott to come out of the gate assailing Trump, Scott has already spoken of the need for the party to nominate someone who can defeat Democrats next fall — an implicit shot at Trump that some of his rivals have already made.
In closing his remarks on Monday, Scott said: "We need a president who persuades not only our friends and our base."
"We have to have a compassion for people who don’t agree with us," he added.
An NBC News survey taken in mid-April found Scott tied with Haley at 3%, trailing Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is co-chairing Scott’s campaign, and he’s been bolstered by endorsements from fellow GOP Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune, both of South Dakota. But though many of his GOP Senate colleagues have warm feelings toward Scott, most were not willing to officially back his campaign in conversations with NBC News.
Scott, whose voting record ranks him among the party’s more conservative senators, has traveled to the early voting states in recent months, traversing Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as part of a "listening tour" as his campaign began to come into full view. In mid-April, Scott toured all three states to meet with voters, key activists and donors.
During a February event in Charleston, Scott detailed his personal story of overcoming childhood poverty and offered hints at the tenets of a potential presidential agenda — promoting opportunity zones, conservative police reform, curbing federal spending and enacting school choice policies.
“There is a way for us to unify this country around basic principles that lead us forward, but we have to put behind us a lie that this is the worst time in American history — only if American history started today,” Scott said.
At one point, Scott suggested conservatives are under siege and increasingly subjected to discrimination. His comments drew loud applause.
“Listen, I understand how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen because of the color of my skin,” Scott said. “I refuse to be considered a second-class citizen because of the color of my party.”
Scott is one of the few top-tier challengers to Trump who doesn't owe part of his political success to either a job in Trump's administration or an endorsement that lifted him through a contested primary.
Posting to his Truth Social platform on Monday, Trump wished Scott "Good luck" in his bid and took the opportunity to hit DeSantis.
"It is rapidly loading up with lots of people, and Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable," Trump added. "I got Opportunity Zones done with Tim, a big deal that has been highly successful. Good luck Tim!"
The South Carolina senator also enters the presidential race with more than $20 million in cash on hand, giving him a leg up on many of his rivals. Scott, who will travel to Iowa and New Hampshire following his Monday launch, has already placed a $6 million TV and radio ad-buy that is set to begin in those states Wednesday.
Following his announcement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison criticized Scott as wanting to govern from the far right "as a proud member of the Tea Party," blasting him for supporting "national abortion bans ... championing plans to end Medicare and Social Security as we know them" and for his work on the Trump-era tax cuts.
"There’s no question that special interests are celebrating as Tim Scott throws his hat into the 2024 race for the MAGA base," he said.
Voters here were encouraged by Scott’s run but were mixed about whether he could actually pull off a victory over the former president.
Helen Walker, a Charleston resident who said she has known Scott for years and is supporting him, said the senator "has a great story" and would be "good for our country" but "I don't really know if this is his time."
Linda Corbett, a Scott supporter from Mt. Pleasant, was not dissuaded by Scott entering the race at a significant polling deficit to Trump.
"Everything is going to shake out," she said. "The cream is going to rise to the top. That's my philosophy."
Kenneth Canty, a supporter from Charleston who said he has known the senator for years, said Scott's ability to "relate to people" across a broad spectrum will be what helps his campaign take off.
"You’ve got people running who are completely — on both sides — completely un-relatable," he said, adding that Scott's consistency and positivity will boost his candidacy.
"Don’t sink to anybody’s level," he added. "And let your record speak for itself."