Tim Scott’s running for president. Will Republican voters back his optimistic message?

Tim Scott is making a big bet that Republican voters are ready for a presidential candidate who talks more about hope than fear, urges people to move past their grievances, and strikes an optimistic tone on the campaign trail.

It’s an approach that stands in stark contrast with how many of the party’s leading candidates plan to appeal to Republican voters in 2024

Scott formally entered the presidential field Friday, filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to join a race that includes former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. That field also is expected to eventually include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, among others hopefuls.

Scott is also set to hold an event Monday at his alma mater, Charleston Southern University in North Charleston, to speak publicly about his decision, where he’s expected to reiterate an optimistic vision for the country’s future and his role in it.

Scott, the sole Black Republican in the U.S. Senate, is not shy about talking about being raised by a single mother, living in poverty, and even failing classes in high school.

But in speeches and interviews, the sitting U.S. senator cast his life story not as one of hardship but of inspiration, citing his history of starting his own business, winning elections to the South Carolina House and Congress, and eventually being appointed to the U.S. Senate.

“That is the quintessential American story,” said Dave Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist in South Carolina.

On the trail, Scott often speaks about how much progress the country has made from slavery to Jim Crow segregation. And how his family chose “faith over anger, responsibility over resentment and patriotism over pity,” he said during a speech at Drake University in Iowa in February.

His speeches have also confronted critics who say an optimistic message is out of touch with a time when Republican voters say over and over again that they’re terrified about the state of the country and desperate for a politician who will fight Democrats at every turn.

“We know people will say our message is naive and our faith is foolish, but they don’t know who they’re talking to,” Scott said to the Drake University crowd. “Conservatism is my personal proof that there is no ceiling in life. I can go as high as my character, my education and my perseverance will take me. I bear witness to that. I testify to that.”

Will GOP voters back a more optimistic candidate?

Senior officials with Scott’s campaign told reporters this week that although the senator plans to discuss on the campaign trail how he thinks left-wing grievances are toxic, he’ll also condemn right-wing grievances.

The candidate will talk broadly about the country’s victim culture and talk about how it’s holding society back, they said.

Republican strategists acknowledge a party that, until recently, was under the pugilistic Trump’s control clearly has an appetite for candidates with a more pessimistic view of politics. But, they add, taking that route would risk making Scott look inauthentic.

“He’s not going to campaign in these dark overtones, these ominous words, that a lot of the other candidates do,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist. “There’s a tendency in the GOP to always describe yourself as a fighter and in doing so, you don’t have to demonstrate that you can win or that you can land a punch. The way Scott talks about it, in a positive sense, is fighting for change and somebody who can win.”

As he starts his race, however, Scott trails in polls to Trump and DeSantis, both far better known for their firebrand personalities and combative styles.

Trump, in a speech to a gathering of conservatives in March, promised that he would be conservative voters’ “retribution” if reelected president next year.

“This is the final battle,” Trump said. “They know it, I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. This is it. Either they win or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, has engaged in a year-long feud with the Walt Disney Co. over their opposition to a law prohibiting discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, one even some Republicans have accused of being a punitive overreach.

“There are those who think a combative nature is the only way to bring about change, and there are candidates out there who are ready to go and fight,” Wilson said. “I think there is a group of voters who have seen America in its heyday and just as the other voters want to see that change take place. I think Tim Scott speaks to that group a little differently because he brings an optimistic view. A lot of that is his story.”

A source familiar with Scott’s strategy said the senator will be ready to draw contrasts with his opponents when the time comes, cognizant the candidates are ultimately fighting over the same pool of voters.

The campaign, in fact, has already purchased air time in Iowa and New Hampshire to run TV ads, a campaign official confirmed Friday, set to run through August. The senator starts his campaign with nearly $22 million banked, a sum of cash much larger than many of his presidential rivals.

Scott was in fifth place with 4% of the support of Republicans across the country, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

However within South Carolina, which will hold the first-in-the-South presidential primary next year, Scott is doing a little better. Scott had 7% of support of Republican voters, in the latest Winthrop University Poll, putting him in fourth place behind Trump with 41%, DeSantis with 20% and Haley with 18%.

Scott is popular within the Palmetto State. He has a 47% job approval rating, including 69% among Republicans.

“People see in Ron DeSantis a new generation of fighter,” Wilson said. “They’re looking for a standard bearer that can carry the conservative mantle, not just the next four years, but maybe the next eight years and set a tone for conservative politics and policies that can last for a generation.”

Scott’s style, however, has gained him some backers in the political class, even before officially jumping into the race.

His early backers within the South Carolina Legislature include state Sen. Brian Adams and state Rep. Sylleste Davis, both Berkeley County Republicans.

“I’ve known him since I’ve been in office and he’s a solid Christian man. That’s important to me. He is kind, considerate, thoughtful and smart,” Davis said. “We need to start looking into the future instead of dwelling in the past and talk about what we can do in the future and not arguing over what happened in the past. I think he’s the right person to lead that narrative.”

Davis said if Scott stays on his message he will see his numbers and support increase.

“I think that his voice will be heard, and it will resonate with people,” Davis said. “And as far as polls are concerned, I think you’ll see that change as a result of him just being focused on what his message is.”