Tim Scott Will Be in the Race Through at Least January, His Ad Buy Suggests, in a Test of His Optimistic Message

With six months worth of ads locked in, Senator Scott will be testing whether a comparatively optimistic message can capture the attention of GOP primary voters.

AP/Charlie Neibergall
Senator Scott, right, during the Family Leadership Summit with moderator Tucker Carlson, July 14, 2023, at Des Moines, Iowa. AP/Charlie Neibergall

In an apparent commitment to keep ads on the air through the first primaries and to capitalize on favorable trends in the Republican Party, a PAC allied with Senator Scott of South Carolina placed a $40 million ad buy, raising the question: Where does Mr. Scott stand in the 2024 presidential race?

The new ad buy placed by the Trust In the Mission PAC is the largest yet this cycle; ads will begin airing on September 7 in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, as well as on national cable channels. 

“This initial ad reservation allows us to lock in the best inventory, times, and locations at the lowest cost for any outside group in the 2024 race,” the PAC’s co-chairman, Ro Collins, told Politico. “As prices skyrocket in the coming weeks, we will have a stable plan that will allow us to efficiently communicate our message, conduct a well-rounded campaign, and better manage our cash.”

While Mr. Scott appears to be attempting to overtake Governor DeSantis as the principal alternative to President Trump, he is bogged down in a fight to consistently poll in third place among the GOP primary contenders. He has recently gained some traction among big donors as a potential alternative to Mr. DeSantis, who has stagnated in the polls.

The new ad buy, which runs through January, indicates that he is probably planning to stay in the primary through at least the South Carolina primary, which is scheduled for February 24. His campaign is also the first to make a commitment to post-Labor Day ad buys, according to an ad tracking service, AdImpact.

AdImpact also reports that Mr. Scott has been the no. 3 spender in terms of television and digital ads, after Messrs. Trump and DeSantis. Collectively, Mr. Scott’s campaign and his aligned committees have spent $7 million. The campaigns of Messrs. Trump Mr. DeSantis have spent $20 million and $15.5 million, respectively.

In the polls, Mr. Scott ranks below not only Messrs. Trump and DeSantis but Vice President Pence, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ambassador Nikki Haley. According to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls, Mr. Scott is polling around 3 percent.

A data scientist at Washington University in St. Louis’s Decision Desk HQ, Liberty Vittert, tells the Sun that Mr. Scott’s ad buys are probably directed at increasing his name recognition, a precondition to boosting his polling.

“Tim Scott is currently single digits in the polls, so if he wants a chance even at the VP spot, he needs to do something,” Ms. Vitter says. “A $40 million ad buy will certainly help with his name ID and will be reflected in the polls giving him more of a chance of being a VP contender.”

Increasing name recognition has been one of the major goals for Mr. Scott since he launched his presidential campaign. Since starting his campaign, he’s seen the largest gain in support of any GOP candidate.

A June NBC News poll found that between April and June, support for Mr. Scott as a second-choice candidate has increased to 12 percent from 3 percent among Republicans. Support for Mr. DeSantis as a second-choice candidate, for comparison, decreased to 31 percent in June from 33 percent in April.

Ms. Vittert says that it’s not clear whether Mr. Scott’s strategy will be enough to win the primary or secure a spot as a vice presidential pick. A political scientist at John Jay College, Brian Arbour, has some doubts about Mr. Scott’s tactic.

Mr. Arbour tells the Sun that Mr. Scott would be a “really strong candidate” in the party-decides model — a model political scientists use to describe when party elites play the biggest role in choosing the nominee.

“Tim Scott is a great candidate to win on the fourth ballot if we’re playing by 1940 convention rules, which is to say that there is no particular faction of the Republican Party that would veto Tim Scott,” Mr. Arbour says.

The problem for Mr. Scott is that in recent years the party hasn’t been able to influence nominations in the way the party-decides model describes, with Mr. Trump’s nomination being the prime example.

Mr. Arbour also doubts that Mr. Scott’s comparatively optimistic messaging — where he engages in cultural battles, but not to the degree that Messrs. Trump or DeSantis do — will resonate in today’s Republicans Party.

Mr. Scott has been characterized by outlets like NPR, Politico, and Axios as a “happy warrior” type, but Mr. Arbour argues that this characterization should be qualified as being in comparison to personalities like Mr. Trump.

“I’m not sure that Tim Scott’s that much of a ‘happy warrior,’” Mr. Arbour says. “It’s just that the anger and negativity of the Republican Party has gone up so much.”
At the moment, Mr. Scott’s core constituency appears to be Republican donors, like billionaire Robert Lauder, whom he met with in late June. His apparent commitment to stay in the race until at least February, though, gives him time to test whether his strategy is viable.

The New York Sun

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