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US Black Republican Makes Presidential Bid

FILE: Sen. Tim Scott delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden's speech to a joint session of Congress, April 28, 2021, in Washington.
FILE: Sen. Tim Scott delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden's speech to a joint session of Congress, April 28, 2021, in Washington.

WASHINGTON - Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott has entered the 2024 presidential race, according to a filing with the U.S. election regulator on Friday, in what amounts to a long-shot bet that a message of unity and optimism can still appeal in a party where many voters are hungry for a bare-knuckled fight.

As a Black conservative, Senator Scott is a rarity in a country where politics are sharply divided along racial lines. Some 92% of Black voters backed Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, while 55% of white voters backed Trump.

Scott often called out Trump when he was president for making racially insensitive comments, and blocked several of his judicial nominees for that reason as well. At the same time, the South Carolina senator has accused Democrats of exploiting racial tensions for partisan gain.

He presents a sunny disposition - a major contrast with other declared and prospective candidates, including former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who have portrayed the U.S. as a declining nation in need of rescuing from a corrupt, leftist elite.

While Scott has a solidly conservative voting record in the Senate, he has attempted to portray himself as unusually compassionate.

Among the policies he has supported are the creation of "opportunity zones" to boost blighted communities and a tax credit program which helps low-income families with children.

In 2020, he was tapped by Republican leaders to develop police-reform legislation, after several high-profile police killings of Black people spurred nationwide protests.

However, bipartisan talks collapsed the following year after Democrats said his proposals were inadequate, and he said they were more interested in scoring political points than reaching a compromise.

On the stump, Scott has shied away from discussing police reform in recent months, and many Republican primary voters are ambivalent or hostile to efforts to increase oversight over law enforcement.

Scott enters the race with his work cut out for him.

Only about 2% of Republicans plan to vote for him in the primary, according to polling averages, and his national name recognition remains low. Over half of Republicans plan to vote for Trump and about a fifth favor DeSantis, who is expected to jump into the race in the coming days.

Still, Scott's chances may be stronger than they appear on paper.

He is well-known and liked in his home state of South Carolina, which plays a crucial role in the Republican nominating contest as it is only the third state to cast its ballots.

Scott's entrance into the race puts him in direct competition with Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, who launched her campaign in February.

Both South Carolina natives are appealing to a similar pool of donors and elected officials for support, and both candidates likely need to win their home state in order to have a shot at securing the nomination.