Two days before the Trump show rolls onto campus for a Wednesday CNN town hall-one likely to feature heated rhetoric and political debate- South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) was at St. Anselm College for a low-key, low-energy town hall of his own.
Scott is widely expected to formally announce his candidacy for president on May 22, and a camera crew was on hand, apparently shooting video for the campaign.
This was his second visit to New Hampshire in less than a month. He told the large crowd at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, “I’ll be back so often, you’ll be saying, ‘He’s coming back again?’”
Scott, 57, began his remarks as he often does, by recounting his biography. Growing up in poverty as the son of a single mom in South Carolina, struggling with school when he was younger, and having his life turned around by a mentor who helped him learn personal responsibility.
The event featured Scott’s “Faith in America” logo, but he spoke very little about his Christian faith — a departure from campaign speeches he has given in the past. Perhaps that’s because New Hampshire is one of the most secular states in the country, and Scott’s focus on his religious faith could be off-putting to some Granite State Republicans.
But Scott closed the deal with at least one voter Monday night.
“I thought he was great. I liked hearing about his upbringing and how it fits in with this platform,” said Peter Barach of Holderness, N.H.” Asked if he had made a decision about the GOP presidential primary, Barach said, “I’m voting for Senator Scott.”
And Maine moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also gave Scott a shoutout this weekend, though not a full endorsement. “I think Tim is among the strongest candidates,” Collins told NBC News this weekend, adding: I’m not endorsing anyone at this point; I think it’s way too early. But I am a big Tim Scott fan.”
The South Carolina conservative didn’t cover any new political ground in his Q&A with town hall attendees. He called for a balanced-budget amendment to bring spending under control, talked about his support for term limits for members of Congress — a concept he might extend to federal civil servants as well — and said he believed Republicans should be campaigning for votes in urban centers and other communities of color.
“If you want to be a different kind of leader, you have to go where you are not invited; you have to spend time where people won’t necessarily vote for you,” Scott said.
He also briefly hit some current events, saying that the debt ceiling should only be raised as part of a bigger negotiation to force some spending restraint.
“We are $31 trillion in debt, and there are people who want to raise the debt ceiling without concessions. There have to be concessions,” Scott said. That’s a position rejected by all four members of the New Hampshire federal delegation.
Scott also talked about the new Biden policy of changing the fees on mortgagee customers that are used to pay the costs of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The administration cut the fees by more than half for borrowers with poor credit scores while raising them 100 percent for people with good credit and who save up large down payments.
“It kind of sounds like ‘everybody gets a trophy,’” Scott said.
Meanwhile, the contrast between Trump and Scott was on full display. Speaking entirely without notes, Scott kept his voice low and intense. He only received a smattering of applause during the event, unlike a Trump rally.
And when given a chance to hit Biden for being too old to do the job of president, a view held by a majority of Americans in the latest Washington Post poll, Scott declined to take the shot.
“I think he’s failing his job because he’s incompetent. I refuse to say it’s because he’s too old or he’s too frail,” Scott said. “I think the bottom line is he has been co-opted by the radical left in his party.”
Trump is unlikely to show such deference Wednesday night.
Another contrast: Several Granite State voters in the crowd mentioned the issue of character as part of what they see as Scott’s appeal.
One question a town hall participant, a St. Anselm student, was whether he could be a role model as president. Scott replied that the best way to set an example was to live it, not talk about it.
Eric Garland of Epson, N.H., said that while he wasn’t prepared to pick a nominee this early in the process, “I can tell you who I am not going to vote for: Donald Trump. He has the policies but doesn’t have the character.”
Scott’s biggest applause of the night came not when he talked about himself but when he talked about New Hampshire — specifically, the First in the Nation primary.
“To my fellow South Carolinians: I love being First in the South, but New Hampshire is going to stay First in the Nation,” Scott said.