Updated Sep 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: GOP donors fret over Scott's single status

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott speaks behind a podium at the first GOP presidential debate.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) speaks during the first GOP presidential debate last week in Milwaukee. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Top GOP donors and their allies privately are pushing Sen. Tim Scott's team for more detail about his bachelor status before deciding how much to support him in the presidential campaign, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

Why it matters: Many of the donors are in the market for a viable alternative to former President Trump — but still aren't sure about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's running second to Trump in GOP polls. Scott, 57, is among those trying to woo such fundraisers.

  • The U.S. hasn't elected an unmarried person as president in 139 years. It's typical for candidates to trot out their families to try to enhance their appeal to voters.
  • Scott's reluctance to say much about his private life has raised concerns among some conservative Republican donors, according to the sources, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue.

Driving the news: Responding to this reporting, a senior official for Scott's campaign told Axios the South Carolina senator will be discussing the issue in the coming weeks.

  • During an interview with Axios in May, Scott said he had a girlfriend but kept her identity private.
  • "The fact that half of America's adult population is single for the first time, to suggest that somehow being married or not married is going to be the determining factor of whether you're a good president or not — it sounds like we're living in 1963 and not 2023," Scott said then.
  • He also spun being single as a potential plus.
  • "I probably have more time, more energy, and more latitude to do the job," he said, adding that even so, "my girlfriend wants to see me when I come home."

In a lengthy Washington Post piece published Tuesday, Scott opened up on the record about his relationship but still declined to name her, citing her privacy.

  • "I can't imagine dragging her onto the campaign trail unless I have the intention of marrying her," he said. "I hope that happens, to be honest with you."
  • The Post's Ben Terris wrote that the campaign declined to let him meet Scott's girlfriend but that Scott's campaign manager, Jennifer DeCasper, said she had hung out with her at the zoo.
  • Scott has been so private about the relationship, Terris reports, that "six friends I spoke with said they didn't know about a woman in his life."

Zoom in: Potential donors who've asked Scott's campaign about his personal life have faced similar dead-ends. For some, it has only fueled their curiosity and apprehension, the sources said.

  • "[New Jersey Sen.] Cory Booker went through the same thing running for president in 2020 and it seems to not have been a problem for him — but maybe that's more normal for Democrats," said one source familiar with the sentiment among GOP donors.
  • The same person told Axios that some donors have questions, but it's not a majority. "I'm surprised it doesn't come up more," the source said.

Between the lines: In his first five weeks as a candidate, Scott spent about $800,000 more than he raised, according to campaign finance disclosures.

  • Scott can continue that spending for a while, however — he transferred $22 million from his Senate campaign account at the outset of his presidential campaign.
  • As of July, he had $21 million on hand — second only to Trump among Republican presidential candidates.
  • Scott has had at least one megadonor in his corner — Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who is set to donate an eight-figure sum to a pro-Scott super PAC, according to Puck News.

Scott has bet big on doing well in the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, and has emphasized his faith in courting the state's large number of evangelicals.

  • In a recent poll by The Des Moines Register and NBC News, Scott was running third in the GOP primary among Iowa evangelicals at 7%, behind Trump (47%) and DeSantis (20%).
  • Trump's strength in Iowa suggests that the state's conservative Republican voters aren't necessarily doctrinaire about a candidate's private life, given his three marriages and alleged affairs.
  • DeSantis' campaign has pointedly emphasized his family. His wife, Casey, and their young children often are at events and in ads.

Scott spokesperson Nathan Brand told Axios: "Tim Scott's optimistic, positive message continues to resonate with Iowa and New Hampshire voters who are focused on issues impacting their families."

Zoom out: The U.S. has not elected a bachelor to be president since Grover Cleveland in 1884, but there have been other single candidates recently.

  • When Booker ran for president, he was dating actress Rosario Dawson.
  • Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) ran for president in 1992, 14 years after his divorce. But unlike Booker, he didn't date while campaigning because he thought it would be a distraction.
  • "People do not know who Bob Kerrey is, and I don't want them to be reading stories about who it is that I'm dating and trying to figure out who I am," he told The New York Times then.
  • There have been two bachelor presidents — Cleveland and James Buchanan. Cleveland married while in office; Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Scott's recent comments to The Washington Post.

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