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Sen. Tim Scott files paperwork to run for president in the 2024

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We get a better picture today of the 2024 elections. Iowa is preparing for its traditional, first-in-the-nation caucuses, and we hear from there in a moment.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We also hear this hour from California, where there's an open Senate seat. A member of Congress is trying to become one of the few Black women ever to serve in the Senate. What are the barriers?

INSKEEP: Tim Scott of South Carolina is the Senate's only Black Republican, and, starting today, he seeks a promotion to the presidency. In an interview with a New Hampshire TV station the other day, he outlined his theme of optimism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: I think that this country can do for anyone what she has done for me, so restoring hope, creating opportunities and protecting the America that we love. You'll hear a lot more about that.

FADEL: To win the nomination, he would have to overcome a rival who accentuates the negative - former President Trump.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is covering Tim Scott's announcement.

Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. People in Washington know Tim Scott very well. Some regular cable-TV viewers will know him very well. But for those who don't, what's his background?

GONYEA: He's been in the U.S. Senate for a decade. Before that, he was a congressman, and before that, the South Carolina statehouse and earlier, the Charleston City Council. So it's been a steady climb. He is the only Black Republican in the Senate. He's a conservative. He is anti-abortion rights. He's a strong advocate of tax cuts as economic policy. But he is - also is well known for his positive demeanor. He says over and over that there's far too much rancor in politics today.

INSKEEP: Although he's doing something a little aggressive here in that he is the second South Carolinian to get in the race. Nikki Haley, the former governor and former U.N. ambassador, is already in.

GONYEA: People are talking about that, especially in South Carolina. And as alternatives to Trump, both Scott and Haley do seem to occupy similar lanes, right? These are two of the most popular homegrown political figures ever in the state. And by the way, it was Haley as governor who appointed Scott to the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy. So it's unusual they're both seeking the nomination at the same time. It's a small state, but, remember, it does play a disproportionate role given that it's the first Southern state to hold a primary. Outwardly, there doesn't seem to be any bad blood between Scott and Haley. Each appears to have decided this is their time.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, former President Trump insists it's his time yet again. How's he responding?

GONYEA: Well, Scott's poll numbers are low - single digits, so Trump might have just ignored him. Not so, though the reaction actually came from the pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again. And mostly the statement used Scott's announcement for president to mock Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, saying the only reason Scott got into the race was because DeSantis has proven to be so weak in the polls. The statement did hit Scott on some issues, including his support for more financial aid to help Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Although that sort of captures the narrative here - that Trump statement - in that it would seem that the Republican field is a number of people who are each trying to overcome Trump. How does that field look right now?

GONYEA: You know, even with this growing list, there haven't been a lot of direct attacks on Trump yet, even with all of Trump's legal troubles hanging out there. Those officially running as of now include Trump, Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. And, of course, Scott is announcing today. Within days, we expect a formal announcement from Ron DeSantis. Mike Pence, the former vice president, is reportedly close to declaring. Other possibilities include New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Then there are others most people have never heard of. Most prominent among them is businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who's been getting some attention, and others beyond these might still join the race.

INSKEEP: Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.