Tim Scott wants new rules for stage placement in next GOP debate as he seeks a breakout moment

Republican presidential candidate South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott speaks at a campaign event, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in Rye, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Sen. Tim Scott wants the Republican National Committee to change how it orders the candidates on stage for its next presidential debate, suggesting changes that could put the South Carolina Republican in a better position and make him more a part of the conversation.

In a letter shared Wednesday with The Associated Press, Scott’s campaign manager Jennifer DeCasper wrote to RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel that since Iowa's caucus is the leadoff to GOP balloting next year, “polling results from Iowa should be the primary consideration for podium placement at the September debate."

Scott, who launched his presidential bid in May and has been running millions of dollars worth of ads in Iowa, was second from the right edge of the stage in the first GOP debate last month. He did not have a breakout moment as some others did, including biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

The RNC has said that to qualify for debates candidates need to meet certain percentages in national and early-state polling. DeCasper wrote that the RNC had not specified “which polling will be considered in deciding the podium placement.” The next debate is Sept. 27.

“Relying on national polling results for the podium placement simply would not represent where the candidates actually stand in relation to where we are in the process with the voters,” she wrote, referring to the candidates’ focus on early voting states.

As another option, DeCasper wrote, the RNC “could take the candidate’s average polling results of all four ‘carve out’ states” — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — “in determining the podium placement for the September debate.”

Scott’s campaign has placed a heavy emphasis on Iowa since he launched in mid-May, betting that his upbeat message of personal responsibility, wrapped in the Christian faith he comfortably cites, is a good fit for Iowa Republicans who might split from former President Donald Trump.

So far, Scott and others in the White House race remain far behind Trump.

But Scott’s team is asking for more weight on polls in Iowa, where he’s been performing somewhat better than nationally, though he still trails DeSantis as well as Trump in most polls there.

Asked about Scott's proposal, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told The Associated Press that the state — whose caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 15 — “would certainly be supportive of more heavily weighing polling from the carve-out states, which could better reflect where the momentum is among the candidates."

Should the RNC adopt his rules, he could be more prominently featured in the Sept. 27 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

His campaign says Scott has already met the donor and polling thresholds set by the RNC for that debate.

As for other future debates — which have not been announced by the RNC — DeCasper suggested in a separate letter to McDaniel that the RNC adopt other criteria that “will better reflect the trends of the early voting states,” including a requirement that participants “have attended at least one event of the Republican Party of Iowa, the New Hampshire Republican Party, the Nevada Republican Party, and the South Carolina Republican Party.”

Asked about Scott's proposals, which were first reported by Axios, RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said the debate committee “has had a very thoughtful approach to the entire process, and we continue to welcome input from all candidates, partners and stakeholders.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP