COLUMBIA, S.C. – More than a year and a half ahead of the 2022 general election, a Democratic state lawmaker is mounting a bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, saying her campaign — with the aim of registering 150,000 new voters across South Carolina — has what it takes to tighten the margin Democrats have struggled to close in statewide elections.
“This is a true grassroots effort, focusing on voter registration, engagement and mobilization,” state Rep. Krystle Matthews said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “We’re going to meet and engage as many people as we can, particularly people who haven’t voted in a while."
Matthews, recently elected to her second term in the state House, represents a district that includes areas north of Charleston. In 2018, she ousted a four-term GOP incumbent, focusing her campaign on what she saw as a need to elect more representatives with “the working person’s voice.”
In that first effort, Matthews has said she raised only $700, focusing nearly entirely on registering new voters and engaging those who hadn’t cast ballots in years. In the end, she won by 7 percentage points.
Now, Matthews, 40, said she wants to scale that same strategy up for a statewide campaign.
“This is a doable race,” Matthews, a single mother who works at Boeing’s sprawling campus near Charleston, told the AP ahead of her official launch, planned for Tuesday at the Statehouse in Columbia, with legislative and Democratic Party leaders.
“The people of South Carolina, we’re ready for somebody that represents all of the people, all of the time, and not just some of the people, some of the time,” she said.
Matthews already has the campaign team that helped South Carolina make history last year when Kristin Graziano became the state's first elected female sheriff, unseating a lawman who'd been in office for more than three decades.
Both Matthews and Scott are African-American. Scott, 55, is the only Black Republican in the Senate and one of its three Black members. He previously served one U.S. House term and had just been elected to his second when then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him in late 2012 to succeed Jim DeMint.
Elected to a full term in 2016, Scott has said the 2022 Senate race would be his last and already has the backing of former President Donald Trump, who gave Scott his “Complete and Total Endorsement” last month, in a statement issued through his Save America PAC. Scott also has been mentioned as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, appearing in a straw poll conducted at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
At least one other Democrat, Spartanburg Democratic Chairwoman Angela Geter, has said she plans to vie for her party's nomination. One Republican, Timothy Swain of Walterboro, has said he intends to challenge Scott.
Matthews supports term limits for members of Congress, but when asked if she'd limit herself to a certain number of terms, she was unsure.
“I don’t know; I really don’t have an answer for that,” she said.
It's yet to be known how much focus Democratic groups outside South Carolina will put on picking off Scott's seat, given the party's razor-thin majority in the chamber, and the likelihood that pickups in other states might seem easier. Scott has maintained popularity in his home state, where all statewide offices have been in Republican hands for more than a decade. In 2016, he was reelected with nearly 61% of votes cast.
There's also a question of how much money winning the race will take, particularly after Democrat Jaime Harrison's eye-popping fundraising effort resulted in a double-digit loss to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham last year. Harrison set fundraising records by hauling in $130 million, catapulted in part by nationalized money drives, with Graham bringing in more than $100 million of his own.
Fundraising was fractional in Scott's most recent race, when in 2016 he raised nearly $13 million, compared to roughly $40,000 from his Democratic challenger. Scott ended 2020 with nearly $8 million in his coffers, a nest egg to get his 2022 reelection effort started.
Roughly a year and a half before the 2020 election, Harrison told AP he thought it might take $10 million to topple Graham. Matthews, who has not begun federal fundraising, acknowledged that national-level support would be necessary to her campaign as well.
“Don’t hold me to it, but I’m going to say that we’re probably going to need somewhere in the area of about $10 million to $20 million as well,” she told the AP. “ I am feeling very confident going into this race. We’re going to have a great journey.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.