Touted possible Republican presidential contender, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, stopped in Davenport Thursday for a political fundraiser and reception hosted by Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.
Scott was joined by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds at Rhythm City Casino.
Scott joins a number of other potential 2024 contenders in visiting Iowa in recent months, including U.S. Sens. Rick Scott, R-Florida, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Thursday's event was the third of eight regional events being hosted by the Iowa GOP this year as part of an effort to "get things out of Des Moines" and solidify Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest, which is often challenged.
This year the Democratic National Committee is looking at changes that could knock the Hawkeye state off its first-in-the-nation perch.
Asked whether Iowa should lead the pack on the nominating calendar, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Scott replied: "We better protect and preserve the current system."
"And by the time you get to South Cackalacky, we can clear it all up for the rest of the nation," Scott said, affirming Iowa should remain first in the nation. "It just makes sense, right? Who would want to change that system?"
The lone Black Republican in the Senate and the first black member elected to the U.S. Senate from a Southern state since Reconstruction, Scott's name has been floated by some media outlets and political oddsmakers as a candidate who could bridge the establishment and pro-Trump flanks of the party given his conservative stances, support for former President Trump’s agenda and mild demeanor.
Scott on Thursday said he is focused on his reelection next year.
"(A)ny conversation that goes beyond, frankly, my primary in June is irrelevant," Scott said.
Scott shared how his family went from "cotton to Congress" in a generation. He was raised by a single mother and dropped out of school in ninth grade only to return to complete his education. Scott's grandfather was forced to leave school in third grade to pick cotton.
"Our nation is embroiled in a racial challenge we haven’t seen in at least 40 or 50 years," Scott told the crowd of about 250 Iowa GOP supporters and donors. "The real challenge is that we are not having an honest conversation about race. To have an honest conversation about race we have to agree that racism and discrimination is a real part of our nation. Our nation, however, is not racist. There is a difference. It’s a huge difference.
"The truth is, if we were actually having a conversation about race, we would have to acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made in this nation as it relates to race,"Scott said, pointing to increases in home ownership, household income and elected representation and lower unemployment among minority groups over decades.
Scott, too, addressed criticisms over Georgia's new voting restrictions that some Democrats have compared to the nation's infamous Jim Crow laws. Opponents call it a blatant attack on voting rights, aimed specifically at suppressing the minority vote that helped propel Joe Biden’s presidential win and gave Democrats two critical seats in the U.S. Senate.
Scott claimed the restrictions strengthen election integrity, and contrasted it to House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation, which Scott argued would give license to unwanted federal interference in states’ authority to conduct their own elections and create a new public financing of campaigns that would have Americans "put money into the individual campaign accounts of people that you might not support."
Supporters of the bill argue it would overhaul the nation’s campaign finance system to limit the influence of wealthy donors.
"The vast majority of African-Americans, the vast majority of whites, the vast majority of Hispanics say voter ID is a good thing. I want to know who you are when you vote," Scott said.
Scott also served as the architect of the GOP's failed police reform bill blocked last year by Senate Democrats, who had criticized the legislation as an inadequate response to nationwide calls for action to address police misconduct and racial injustice.
He said he plans to reintroduce the bill soon, stating he had "good conversations" with Senate Democrats Thursday about sticking points surrounding qualified immunity, a legal defense that shields police officers from civil liability, and other sticking points in the bill.
"We have to make sure that we keep the outcome in focus ... to make sure that our communities are safer, our law enforcement officers are safer and motivated to come to work," Scott said. "We can do all of that at the same time."
Scott added: "People have made this a binary choice between communities of color and law enforcement community," Scott said. "That is a false assumption. ... You can actually support law enforcement officers as well as the communities of color ... by having the right training in place ... and the resources through grants and funds so that you could train your officers on de-escalation. ... I am very confident if we can have good will from the other side we can find a way to restore confidence and trust."