(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — As the lone Republican African-American in Congress, some have looked to Sen. Tim Scott as the GOP’s answer to attract black voters. But the South Carolina senator says his message for voters is colorblind.
“I hope what I provide is an opportunity to have a serious conversation with voters everywhere — black voters, white voters, old voters, young voters, conservative voters, liberal voters,” Scott told ABC News during an interview in Charleston, South Carolina.
The GOP has struggled to diversify its ranks and expand across demographic blocs. But Scott said there’s “an opportunity for us to continue to make progress.”
“For me, it started on the local level and working my way through a system that reinforces the fact that I understand and appreciate my voters and their views,” Scott said of his own path to elected office.
When it comes to recruiting a more diverse voting base, Scott said it’s a matter of reaching one voter at a time.
“We have to be intentional about our approach to reaching out to every single potential voter,” he said.
Scott, who is up for election this year, was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2012 to fill Sen. Jim DeMint’s seat following his early retirement — making Scott the first black Republican senator from the South since Reconstruction.
And while Scott’s political philosophy is nearly polar opposite to President Obama’s, Scott said he was initially inspired by Obama’s election as the first black president. He recalled driving his grandfather to the polls in 2008 to vote.
“That was a moving experience for me,” he said. “I’ve only seen him [my grandfather] cry two times: the first time was April 29, 2001, my grandmother passed away, and taking him to vote for President Obama. That’s a powerful picture that will always live with me.”
But despite sharing in his grandfather’s hope for a time, Scott said, the feeling was short-lived.
“I shared in this hope that the president, President Obama, would just do well,” Scott said. “I didn’t agree with his position. I’m a fairly far-right conservative kind of guy, but I had great hope and optimism for his for his success. And it just has turned out very poorly from a policy standpoint.”
As a self-described “far-right conservative,” Scott is opposed to gay marriage. When asked if he shares in the sentiment of some other Republicans, who have signaled that the movement toward legalization of gay marriage is inevitable despite their personal opposition, Scott demurred.
“This is an issue I haven’t spent a lot of time studying, to be honest with you,” Scott said. “I think the voters of South Carolina, and I agree with them, spoke very loud and very clear.”
Scott defended his opposition to gay marriage, saying it’s possible to disagree with the issue while still being tolerant of gay people.
“Being tolerant today really means that you have to agree, or you’re a bigot. I don’t think that’s consistent with the true definition of being tolerant,” he said. “You have the right to do what you want to do, I have the right to do what I want do; and we can disagree on what that looks like, and you have to learn to do it without being disagreeable.”
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Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Heather Long, CNN
Marissa Morrison, KIVI