The path to winning the 2016 Republican S.C. presidential primary appears to be going through U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
The North Charleston Republican told The Buzz last week that he has commitments from all the top GOP White House hopefuls to attend one of his town hall meetings. The first “Tim’s Town Hall” – as the gatherings are being called – is scheduled for July 6 in Anderson with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
With fewer debates planned for the 2016 election cycle than in 2012, events with high-profile hosts, like Scott, could become more crucial for candidates. The town halls will give GOP candidates a chance to spread their messages without having to bludgeon their competitors within the party.
Scott said he hopes his town halls help S.C. Republicans restart their streak of picking the party’s nominee, a streak that was broken in 2012 after 32 years.
One other plus: The town halls will give presidential prospects a chance to audition for Scott. Scott – the state’s most popular politician, according to polls – plans to endorse a 2016 GOP candidate early next year.
Scott will have a wing man for the town halls.
U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Spartanburg Republican Scott calls his best friend in Congress, will co-host the events as his schedule permits. Gowdy is leading the U.S. House’s special Benghazi investigative committee.
Some excerpts of The Buzz’s chat with Scott:
What do you think about being called a presidential kingmaker in South Carolina?
“I don’t think there is a kingmaker in South Carolina. The days of (former U.S. Sens.) Strom Thurmond and Jim DeMint and others who were truly kingmakers, that’s the day of the past. ... What I think I can bring to the table is attracting candidates to an audience and let the audience be the kingmakers and not one individual. I am a big believer in diffusing power.”
Do you expect S.C. voters to favor an upstart candidate over one of the favorites, like they did in 2012 with Newt Gingrich?
“South Carolina is consistently more conservative than the rest of the nation. The key is to get a candidate who resonates well in South Carolina and still understands the dynamics going forward to winning the rest of the country. ... It’s important for us to help create momentum for the right candidate.”
Were John McCain and Mitt Romney the best possible Republican presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012, respectively?
“President (Barack) Obama was on a collision course with history. It was going to be hard to stop him. I think – looking back and trying to figure out who was the best candidate – it’s easier to poke holes in the nominee but not very helpful to do so. I think what we learned from the last two (presidential) races is that we’re going to have to broaden our reach in order to be the party of the future.”
Where does the GOP need to broaden its reach?
“Too often we have ceded the message that education is the key to escaping poverty. We have ceded the whole education debate to the Democrats, which I think is a colossal failure.
“We have to engage on how to produce a better economy from the ground up. ... The party has to understand that talking about policies is not nearly as convincing as talking about people.
“Look, we can all look at the demographics and say, ‘Unless the Republican Party gets better at winning a more diverse demographic, we’re going to have a hard time coming in the future.’ (But) I don’t think the demographic issue is the issue of 2016.
“In my opinion, the issue of 2016 is: What do you stand for? Education, work skills, entrepreneurship, apprenticeship programs, national defense – these are issues that should be consistent with the DNA of the Republican (presidential) candidate.”
Don’t you think S.C. Republicans expect a more conservative presidential nominee than McCain or Romney?
“You certainly need to have a bona fide conservative candidate. The definition of conservative will be a fluid definition around the country. But we are consistently going to be the more conservative part of the Republican base in South Carolina, and we should be. That’s an important ingredient.”
How do avoid any appearance of favoritism for fellow U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination?
“Hopefully, I have earned the reputation of objectivity, and that I am a man of my word. ... I want to hear from each candidate, and I want to give everyone a fair shake.”
The Dems are chatting, too
Scott is not the only S.C. politico hosting White House hopefuls.
The S.C. Democratic Party is launching a Web series called “Chair Chats” with state chairman Jaime Harrison interviewing Democratic presidential hopefuls and other party leaders. The series will allow voters to “bypass political caricatures and get a more personal and in-depth glimpse of our national and local leaders,” Harrison said in a statement.
Harrison interviews Democratic presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the first episode, being released Thursday on the S.C. Democratic Party's website. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also is scheduled to be interviewed for the series.
2016 in S.C.
Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor will hold a veterans town hall at the Charleston Maritime Center at 10 a.m. Thursday, three days after he is expected to announce formally his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Clinton: The Democratic frontrunner will be in the Charleston area for a forum Wednesday on youth job-training and apprenticeship programs. Details have not been announced. Clinton visited Columbia last month.
John Kasich: The Republican Ohio governor visits the Piedmont on Monday, attending a York County GOP luncheon and a reception at Sun City in Indian Land.
Rand Paul: The Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky holds a meet-and-greet at noon Monday at VFW Post 8738 in Lexington. Wife Kelley will be in the Lowcountry Wednesday through Friday, attending a Berkeley County GOP meeting, a Rotary Club meeting in Charleston, a Dorchester Republican Women’s meeting and a Bluffton lunch.
Sanders: The U.S. senator from Vermont, seeking the Democratic nomination, will hold a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. next Sunday at the Charleston union hall of the International Longshoremen's Association.
Donald Trump: The New York real estate magnate will visit Sun City Hilton Head on Friday, three days after he officially enters the race for the GOP nomination.
A pair of GOP hopefuls, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, just finished S.C. visits over the weekend.
Jindal was in North Charleston for events sponsored by the American Renewal Project, working to get more evangelical voters to the polls. Huckabee visited the Upstate and Piedmont, including a pair of county GOP events.
Davis finds ‘suit’-able attire
State Sen. Tom Davis is a fiscal conservative willing to filibuster spending bills so he can get his way.
But the Beaufort Republican spent some state dough – from his per diem and mileage reimbursement – to avoid a clothing faux pas last week.
While on vacation, Davis was called back to Columbia to attend a special Senate Finance Committee meeting Wednesday. But he did not have appropriate clothes for a State House meeting.
So Davis went to Stein Mart and bought a suit, shirt, tie and socks for a meeting that ended up lasting about 30 minutes.
Davis told fellow committee members that he came out ahead: He still had $68 left over from his state check after buying his ensemble.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, couldn’t resist chiming in: “As frugal as he was, I thought he’d just rent a tux.”
Staff writers Jamie Self and Cassie Cope contributed.