He is rising in the polls and turning heads in Iowa and New Hampshire, behind heavy spending on ads that play to voters’ appetite for a leader who is upbeat and positive in a dark political moment.

He has experience, a compelling personal story and a campaign war chest that gives him staying power in a Republican primary that has so far been a two-person race. And among Republican voters, he’s the candidate everyone seems to like.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is perfectly positioned to seize the moment if former President Donald Trump collapses under the weight of his criminal charges or if the challenge to him from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis evaporates.

The only question is whether both moments will come.

Mr Scott’s growing popularity in early primary states has made him more of a contender in the still young primary campaign and – in the eyes of current and potential supporters, and donors – a possible alternative to Mr DeSantis, who is seen as an alternative to Mr Trump.

Andy Sabin, a wealthy metal magnate who switched his allegiance from Mr. DeSantis to Mr. Scott and is hosting a fundraiser for three dozen wealthy donors in the Hamptons next month, cited his frustration with the top brass and said he hoped more in the donor class would join him in supporting Mr. Scott. Prospective donors, Mr. Sabin said, “all want to see what he’s all about.”

“They are disenchanted with Trump and DeSantis,” he said. “And the others, I saw very little momentum.”

Since he entered the race in May, Mr. Scott’s standing has slowly crept up in Iowa and New Hampshire. A University of New Hampshire survey of likely voters, out Tuesday, found him in third place among the state’s primary voters, with 8 percent of the vote, ahead of former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, both of whom have focused intensely on the state.

He’s also third in recent Iowa polls — at about 7 percent — and some national elections showed him as the second choice for many supporters of Mr. Trump or Mr. DeSantis, although it comes at a time when primary voters uncommitted to Mr. Trump often consider multiple candidates.

Mr. Scott’s strength in early states caught the attention of other potential donors, including the billionaire cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, who met with Mr. Scott in South Carolina this month. In August, Mr. Scott will make a fundraising sweep through at least five states, including Colorado, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Although he has not been as much of a presence on the campaign trail as his rivals, Mr. Scott and his allied groups have poured considerable money into Iowa and New Hampshire, spending $32 million to run ads through January 2024 — more than any other Republican candidate or group on the airwaves, according to the tracking firm AdImpact. Mr. Scott is the only Republican contender to book an ad slot that far in advance.

Mr. Scott’s supporters say his positive campaign message and overall appeal provide a contrast to the primary’s predecessors. The most senior Black Republican, he runs on an only-in-America story as a candidate and senator with roots in a poor Charleston community.

Still, while Mr. Scott has shown some momentum in the early states — including his home state — Republican voters have yet to flock to him, and he’s still relatively unknown nationally.

A Quinnipiac University survey of voters nationwide found him tied with Mr. Christie in the primary among likely Republican voters, behind Ms. Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, who are tied for third. And while he’s well-liked in early primary states, more than half of Republican voters surveyed nationally said they didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.

Alex Stroman, the former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, acknowledged the problem but said it was solvable. “I think the more people are introduced to Tim Scott, they’re going to like Tim Scott,” he said. “The problem is, it’s a crowded primary.”

Asked during a town hall in New Hampshire on Tuesday how voters should contend with such a crowded field, Mr. Scott said he expected “the field to shrink pretty quickly” when voters go to the polls in the state’s February primary.

The first opportunity to present himself to a national audience will be the republican debate on August 23rd. Mr. Scott’s campaign manager, Jennifer DeCasper, said recently that Mr. Scott had met the donor and polling thresholds to be on the debate stage. Mr. Scott, who raised more than $6 million in the second quarter, has more than $20 million in the bank — one of the largest war chests in the primary and enough, Ms. DeCasper argued, to keep his campaign afloat through the Iowa caucuses and all three of the early state primaries.

“At the end of the day, candidates can post any number they want,” she said. “But the name of the game is how much real money you have on hand that is available for use in the Republican primary.”

On Tuesday, Trust in the Mission PAC, a group supporting Mr. Scott, announced it would spend $40 million on broadcast and digital advertising in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — a mammoth outlay that far exceeds the spending of any other candidate in the GOP field and could potentially transform it.

The PAC’s spending reflects a huge bet on raising Mr. Scott’s profile, especially since he maintains a relatively limited presence on the campaign trail: He has relegated his time in early primary states this month to the few days of the week he is not in the Senate. The band has already spent more than $7 million on ads over the summer; the purchase of 40 million dollars will begin in September. It also helps finance a small field operation of about a dozen hawkers in the early primary states.

One challenge Mr. Scott still faces is presenting a policy message that separates him from the rest of the Republican primary field. His ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are biographical, with some touching on national security, warning of the threat China could pose, while others touch on cultural issues, criticizing Democrats’ policies on education and their views on race.

But trying to appeal to a broad swath of Republican voters without alienating key parts of the party’s primary electorate has proven difficult.

Terry Amann, an Iowa pastor who has met with most of the Republican candidates, said Mr. Scott needs to articulate a more solid political plan to connect with the conservative evangelicals who could decide the parties in January. Although the senator’s conservative message and his frequent biblical allusions have endeared him to many Republican faith voters, Mr. Amann said, Mr. Scott has not clearly defined his stance on abortion restrictions.

“If you’re going to be the candidate who stands out on faith, there are some things that I think are worth putting down, and that’s one of them,” he said. “That would be my challenge to him if he wants to get away from the rest of the pack.”

With just over a month until the first debate and six months until the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Scott’s campaign still sees an opening to refine his message and consolidate more voters. However, as he tries to outdo Mr. DeSantis, the bigger challenge will be to win over the support of more than half of Mr. Trump’s Republican primary voters.

“These campaigns, candidates, need to figure out what the hell they want voters to know about them,” said Dave Carney, a veteran Republican strategist in New Hampshire.

Mr. Scott, because of his background, has a unique story to tell that can make “people listen a little bit,” Mr. Carney said. “That’s a big advantage.”

But, he added, “the point is not just to get their interest – then you have to make the deal.

“You have to sell the deal.”

Ruth Igielnik contributed reporting.

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