Presidential Race

Rep. Scott Talks About GOP Field In S.C.

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Melissa Block is in Charleston, S.C., where she talks with freshman Republican Rep. Tim Scott. He's a Tea Party favorite, he's considered a rising star in the GOP, and he's one of just two African-American Republicans in Congress. The presidential contenders are actively pursuing Scott's endorsement, but so far, he hasn't endorsed. He talks with Melissa about Rick Perry's decision to drop out of the race and endorse Newt Gingrich — and how that might reshape the primary in South Carolina.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Our co-host Melissa Block is in Charleston today, where she talked about the reshaped Republican field with South Carolina Congressman Tim Scott. He is a freshman, a Tea Party favorite, considered a rising star within the Republican Party. And the presidential candidates have been doggedly seeking his endorsement, though he hasn't yet tipped his hand.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Tim Scott is getting used to being a trailblazer. When we was elected to the Charleston County Council in 1995, he became the first African-American Republican elected to any office in South Carolina since 1902. Then he became the only black Republican in the South Carolina House of Representatives. And in 2010, he won his seat in Congress, triumphing over the sons of two South Carolina political titans: Senator Strom Thurmond and former Governor Carroll Campbell.

Now, Tim Scott is one of just two black Republicans elected to Congress from former Confederate States in more than a century. I sat down with Representative Scott in Charleston to talk about the newly shrunken Republican field and the tone of the campaign. Congressman Scott, welcome to the program.

Yeah. Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

I want to get your reaction, first of all, to the news today of Governor Rick Perry's decision to drop out of the race, throw his support behind Newt Gingrich. Do you think that shift the scales here in South Carolina?

REPRESENTATIVE TIM SCOTT: I think it can. I'm not sure that it does, but it certainly can. I think Saturday, we're shaping up for a photo finish. It's going close the margin. I think when you see the intensity of the vote that Gingrich has, and then you add in the intensity - whoever was still with Perry was there because they really believed in his message, believed in the person. So that four or five points could literally all slide to Gingrich. That would make it a very tight race within the margins of error.

BLOCK: You think those Perry voters could be enough to put Newt Gingrich over the top here?

SCOTT: I think they're going to draw them very close. You know, the question everybody says: What about Santorum? He'll pick up some of those votes too. Well, it's starting to look like people are making a decision on which candidate they think can win. Even the anti-Romney folks are now choosing a candidate they think can win. And that candidate seems to be Newt Gingrich.

BLOCK: And it's interesting because polls out today show the race tightening even before Governor Perry's announcement. Do you see Mitt Romney's support in your state slipping away? Why is it that he's had a hard time galvanizing more support beyond the 30, 33 percent that he's been getting?

SCOTT: Well, you know, in November they were talking about how - why it was so difficult for him to get beyond the 24 to 25 range. And now he's about 10 points higher. So I would say that based on the statistics themselves, that he is actually improving in our state. And when we look at the race in the areas of the most conservative parts of our state - Greenville and Spartanburg - you see that the race between he and Newt Gingrich down to a two-point difference. So there's no question that in the most conservative parts of the state, Romney is very competitive.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about the interview that Newt Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, has given. It'll be running tonight on ABC's "Nightline." She says that Newt Gingrich requested an open marriage so that he could continue his admitted affair with Callista, who's now his third wife. You have a lot of conservative evangelical voters in your state.

SCOTT: Absolutely.

BLOCK: Should this disturb them?

SCOTT: It probably will disturb them. There's no doubt about that. The impact of it, hard to measure at this point, but there's no doubt that it will have impact.

BLOCK: Does it disturb you?

SCOTT: Well, of course. I mean, I don't know all the details. I haven't spoken with him. But if it is as clear as it is, it is disturbing.

BLOCK: Congressman Scott, there has been some strong talk in this campaign about work and about entitlement programs. I wanted to ask you about that. We heard Newt Gingrich call President Obama the food stamp president. He said he would tell the African-American community that they should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And he was questioned about that very sharply by Juan Williams during Monday's debate. Juan Williams called those statements insulting and belittling to black Americans.

SCOTT: What did Newt say?

BLOCK: He said he didn't see it that way.

SCOTT: Yeah.

BLOCK: Well, how did you see it? You're an African-American. You're a member of Congress. Are you troubled by that? Do you hear a racial code there?

I think Newt Gingrich has done more outreach in the African-American community and the Latino community than probably anyone else on stage. So I think if taken out of context, you can make something into something that it was never intended to be. What I heard Newt say was that all Americans should have a work ethic that matches the global, competitive nature that we are going into. And if, in fact, we're going to be globally competitive, we're going to have to have a strong work ethic. And we cannot exclude anybody from having that strong work ethic.

SCOTT: And if there's a way to give a kid who's living in poverty a paycheck while he's in school, whether he's working in the library, the front office, the cafeteria, or if he's doing light janitorial work, that may help to birth a strong work ethic. I don't find that offensive.

BLOCK: I'm curious if your own family's personal story comes to bear on how you think about this. I've read that you're the son of a single mother who worked 16-hour days as a nurse's...

SCOTT: Absolutely. Nurse assistant, yeah.

BLOCK: ...assistant in a hospital.


BLOCK: Have you talked with her about this, this discussion going on and the debate about exactly this, about entitlement and working and...

SCOTT: Yeah. My grandfather, who's 91 years old, who has a third grade education, would tell you without any question that one of the biggest problems that we have in this nation is people have lost their work ethic, that when you drive around and you see people sitting around able to work and not going to work, that you find those folks as a drain on the system. And this is a guy who went through the worst of times, from my perspective, in this nation.

And yet, he still sees that this is a place where people come to dream. You don't build a raft and go to Cuba to see your dreams come true. You come to America. And because of that, you know, we find ourselves in the same position, saying, yeah, we need to shore up ourselves from a work standpoint. We need to dream big dreams, but work really hard to make sure that they come to pass. So we are of the same opinion that, in fact, America's best and brightest days are ahead of us because we can restore our work ethic, because we can compete, because we can dream, and we can work and we will evolve.

BLOCK: Congressman Tim Scott represents South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. Representative Scott, thanks so much.

SCOTT: Absolutely. Good to be back with you all.

SIEGEL: Our co-host Melissa Block reporting from Charleston.

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