South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) in the coming weeks will hold events in Iowa and his home state as part of a listening tour that is expected to springboard him into the 2024 Republican presidential primary, making him the first U.S. senator to jump into the contest in either party.
There’s also a chance he’s the last.
Over the last 20 years of presidential politics, the Senate has been a breeding ground for those with presidential aspirations, no matter how successful their runs turned out. Starting with the 2004 campaign cycle and continuing every four years, other than 2012, at least four sitting senators have run for the White House regardless of party. In total, 12 senators currently in office have run for the top job at some point in their career.
In 2016, four current or former senators competed in the GOP presidential primary.
The difference this year may not be so much a lack of interest among senators as much as a reflection of the state of Republican Party politics. Former President Trump — who has officially jumped into the race — and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — who has not but is widely expected to — are garnering the lion’s share of attention and are far and away the leading candidates.
“There’s a lane out there, and it’ll start probably getting occupied more as time goes on,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Hill, acknowledging that the power dynamic in the party is forcing senators who would otherwise jump in the presidential waters head first to recalibrate. “With Trump in, that affects, probably, some folks’ decisions.”
While a number of high-profile party figures have made concrete steps toward a run, most senators who have shown interest in doing so have shifted toward alternate plans.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the former head of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm who has made waves and grabbed headlines by challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), says he is running for a second term in the upper chamber.
Ditto for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). The buzz surrounding Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who both ran in 2016 for the GOP nod, has been muted this go-around. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) already ruled out a 2024 campaign.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has made clear his desire for a second presidential bid at some point, is also gearing up for a Senate reelection campaign. The so-called LBJ law — which allowed Lyndon Johnson, then the Senate majority leader, to run for reelection and on the Democratic ticket for either president or vice president — allows Cruz to run for both if he chooses, however.
As for Tim Scott, he will launch his listening tour with an event in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 16 before making a pair of stops in Iowa on Feb. 22. The expectation that he will enter the race is being welcomed with open arms by a number of his colleagues.
“Having Tim get into the race would be very well-received by a number of members of the Senate, me included,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told The Hill. “He’s sharp. He’s got a business background. He’s got a great personal story.”
“There’s a number of us that have basically been encouraging him to at least consider that type of a run,” Rounds continued. “This is good news, we think, that he’s at least exploring the possibility.”
Thune added that Tim Scott would be a “great voice” to have in the field and “brings a lot to the table.”
The apathy primary voters feel toward the senators demonstrates in part the power Trump continues to wield over the GOP, despite the somewhat tumultuous start to a campaign that has attempted to be more conventional in recent weeks. Most national and early primary state polls still show him leading the potential GOP primary field.
It also shows the power DeSantis has among the party faithful. The Florida governor has seen his stature grow to the point where he is being attacked consistently by the former president and is sitting closely behind Trump in survey after survey — and leading in some.
“I think the leadership is going to be coming from the states and governors, because they actually run things,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who is retiring to run for the Indiana governorship. “I like anybody that comes from the outside. … To me, if you’re wanting to get more people from the farm system of politics, which are the career politicians, expect more of the same.”
Indeed, prospective candidates have largely come from the ranks of governors and Trump administration officials. Former Ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is expected to make her bid official later this month, while former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo move toward doing so themselves.
Other names tossed around include first-term Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and Trump critics Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who says he’s eyeing an April decision.
On the Democratic side, the expectation that President Biden mounts a reelection campaign has kept the conversation muted. While the 2020 primary field featured seven senators, even those who have indicated they would like to make another run at some point — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — have said they won’t challenge Biden.
Some Senate Republicans and GOP operatives, however, caution that it is still early in the 2024 cycle. Tim Scott himself hasn’t announced a bid. Cruz has not ruled out running altogether.
And Rick Scott has continued raised eyebrows among some in the party, especially with a 7-figure national ad buy last month and his ongoing feud with McConnell, which kept up last week after the leader yanked him from his post on the Senate Commerce Committee. In spite of those signs, he has maintained that he is running for reelection in the Sunshine State.
“I’d be shocked,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said about the possibility that Tim Scott could be the only senator running for president this cycle. “It’s early.”