Tim Scott is a U.S. senator and former House member with a political career that stretches back nearly two decades in the Lowcountry.
All that time in office, though, hasn’t made him a household name across South Carolina.
A recent Winthrop University poll of South Carolina residents found that close to one-third of the state’s residents either don’t know who he is or don’t have an opinion about him.
People who follow politics were stunned by this finding, Winthrop pollster Scott Huffmon said.
Scott shouldn’t be worried, though, Huffmon said. For starters, the North Charleston native was appointed almost a year ago to fill the Senate vacancy created when Jim DeMint resigned, meaning he still hasn’t gone through the rigors of a statewide campaign, or the debates or the stump appearances that go with it.
Also, the fact that a Democrat this month formally got into the Senate race — Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson — gives Scott a wider opportunity to go on TV and contrast and compare his Republican policies versus her Democratic ones.
“Having a challenger would help,” Huffmon said.
For his part, in the 11 months since Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to fill the DeMint vacancy, Scott has set out to visit all 46 counties in the state, hitting fire stations, schools and civic clubs, sometimes through Skype teleconferencing.
“Our goal is to get 100 percent name recognition,” he said last week.
On the plus side as a Republican, residents who align with the GOP still rate him highly, giving him a 54 percent approval rating, according to Winthrop.
Otherwise, those who generally approve of Scott measured 39 percent in the poll, while about 28 percent disapprove.
Beyond his efforts in South Carolina, Scott also has drawn a national following as the only black Republican member of the Senate. But his first year has also seen him relax his activities associated with the “Tomorrow Is Meaningful” (TIM) political action committee he founded nearly two years ago when he was in the House of Representatives.
The PAC, which gives money to like-minded conservatives, has only about $42,000 cash on hand, according to recent Federal Election Committee reports covering the first half of the year.
Scott said serving in his first year in the Senate meant dedicating less time to the PAC than he would have if he were still in his second term in the House.
Normally, 2014 wouldn’t be a year with two U.S. Senate races on the ballot in the same state. While 2014 is the six-year end of the term for the state’s senior senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, Scott also must run because it is the next scheduled election after DeMint’s early departure to run the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Dickerson, Scott’s Democratic opponent, said she’s not concentrating on Scott for now, only on her campaign.
“I don’t really have any time to focus on him,” she said. “I’m going to let him focus his time on me.”
Dickerson starts way back financially. She is just starting to schedule fund-raisers while Scott has more than $2.8 million in campaign cash on hand.
Huffmon, the Winthrop pollster and political scientist, said there still is a lot of time for Scott to get his name-identification numbers up among all voters. Plus, he said there is the advantage that South Carolina already leans heavily toward the Red state column.
“If the electorate in 2014 looks like the electorate in 2010,” he said, “essentially half the voters will be Republican.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551