When Tim Scott Tried to Appeal to Black Voters


The Republican presidential candidate’s defeat in a largely Black South Carolina district in 1996 derailed his promise as someone who could expand the party’s appeal.

On a balmy, overcast October afternoon in South Carolina, Tim Scott, the state’s junior senator and current Republican presidential hopeful, worked his way from the back of the Corner Perk Brunch Cafe to a makeshift stage at the front of the crowded room. He stopped to hug and greet adoring supporters in his path. Mr. Scott, who grew up idolizing professional wrestlers, looked the part of the fan favorite on his way to the ring.

“I am a huge fan of America,” Mr. Scott, 58, the Senate’s only Black Republican, said. “We are the greatest country on God’s green earth.”

He delivered this message to an almost entirely older, white group. But there was a time when Mr. Scott represented the possibility that Republicans could draw a more diverse crowd.

Early in his political career, Mr. Scott stirred excitement among South Carolina’s Republican establishment, which anointed him a rising star who could help broaden the party’s appeal to Black voters. As an at-large member of the Charleston County Council, he set out to test the theory in 1996 by challenging a sitting state senator, a Democrat, in a majority Black district.

But Mr. Scott lost that campaign by 30 percentage points — a “trouncing,” Charleston’s Post and Courier called it.

The lessons of that loss still echo in Mr. Scott’s struggling bid for the Republican nomination for president. Mr. Scott often speaks about race and America on the campaign trail, but he has honed a message of opportunity and resilience, while downplaying the role racism plays in impeding Black progress.


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