WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is more likely to stay in the Senate than run for governor in 2018, he said Monday, chilling what many saw as a dream ticket for the Governor's Mansion.
"I have not ruled it out," Scott said. "But I have said without any question that, today, I believe I can do more good in the Senate than I think I can as governor. And I'm going to pray about it for another couple of days and be as frank with you as I'm being right now."
Scott's comments to The Post and Courier and other reporters late Monday in Washington were a step back from a report earlier in the day by GoUpstate.com, the website of the Spartanburg Herald, that said Scott had decisively ruled out a bid.
“The more I pray, the more I am comfortable that where I am is where I want to be right now,” Scott said during a visit to Gaffney, according to the site. “You’ve got to have fire to run (for governor). We are finding fire and that is staying (in the Senate).”
Scott, R-S.C., spoke to constituents in the Upstate earlier in the day before returning to Capitol Hill.
Scott said GoUpstate accurately reflected his sentiments that he was leaning toward serving out his six-year Senate term rather than to leave early to run for governor. But he stressed Monday he has not made a final decision.
As for when he might run for governor, Scott quipped, “Maybe in the year 2090," the Spartanburg publication also quoted him as saying.
Scott's dabbling with a gubernatorial run is part of the domino effect that overtook South Carolina once Gov. Nikki Haley accepted President-elect Donald Trump's offer to become United Nations ambassador.
Haley will leave office next month, pending confirmation from the U.S. Senate, with two years left in her second term. Those years are now set to be filled by Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who through succession would move up to fill the remainder of Haley's term.
McMaster, a Republican, would also be able to run for re-election in 2018 and a full four-year term.
College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said Scott's change of heart on the governor's race probably has to do with what he called the evolving "calculus" of the state after Haley's planned exit. Top among that is one Republican being put in the tough intra-party position of challenging another sitting Republican.
"Running for an open seat is much more attractive; that's one thing," he said. "But if it's an incumbent of your own party, that's another thing."
Knotts called the dilemma Scott is facing the "strategic politician theory." He also pointed out that Scott could see a bigger political payoff by staying in the Senate where he is one of 100 people and needs time to acquire power through seniority.
Becoming governor could put him in a weaker spot, since state government is controlled more by the state Legislature, he said.
In November, The Post and Courier first reported that Scott was mulling a bid for governor in 2018 with his friend and colleague U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Spartanburg Republican, as his running mate. He didn't say his plans hinged on whether Gowdy would run on his ticket but did suggest his fellow lawmaker's willingness to participate could sweeten the deal.
Scott has also emphasized that Gowdy would make a good federal judge, and that between a chance to serve on the courts or as lieutenant governor, the latter would be "a waste of his talent." Scott has made it clear he will continue to advocate for Gowdy, the former seventh circuit solicitor, to be nominated for a judgeship under Trump.
Originally, it appeared that Scott and others would have been able to run in an open field when Haley departed the office in 2018. He has been repeatedly cited in polls as one of the most popular Republicans in the state and interested in becoming the state's first black governor.